Early childhood experience has a profound impact on structural and dynamical features of the brain and may shed light on precursors of brain dysfunction.
In the year 2000, 136 abandoned children in Bucharest were enrolled in a now famous study. The Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP) was a longitudinal study examining the impact of institutionalization on young children. After completing a variety of bench-line assessments, half the participants were moved from the institutions to high-quality, study-organized foster homes.
Children were moved from the institutions between 6-months and 31-months of age, with 22-months being the average. All of the children – those raised in institutions and those raised in foster care – were assessed at regular intervals to evaluate how their home environments might be influencing their development. The results were sobering. All of the children exhibited “profound deficits in many domains examined.” Lower IQ, changes in how they experienced and processed rewards, and a tendency towards behavioral and psychological disorders were observed at alarming rates. Though placing children in high-quality foster care did improve their development outcomes, the earlier they were removed from institutional care the more recovery could be expected. Removal before the age of two was paramount to success.