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The Amazing Human Brain and Human Development
Lesson 1: Beginning with the Human Brain

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Beginning with the Human Brain

A cross-section of the human brain. Image courtesy of Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.
A cross-section of the human brain. Image courtesy of Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.


Welcome to The Amazing Human Brain. The lessons in this course will teach you how the incredible mass of tissue in our skulls functions to make us the thinking, talking, feeling creatures we are.

It is truly amazing that, at birth each child is born with a remarkable range of potential.  Neural systems that mediate emotional, social and cognitive functioning throughout life, have yet to be organized.  The organization, and functional capacity, of these systems is determined by a combination of genetic potential and experience.  The influence of experience in expressing the potential of the brain is greatest in the first years of life.  Consistent, predictable, nurturing and enriched experiences help a child develop their potential.  This presentation will provide an overview of the key principles of neurodevelopment which can help caregivers understand how we can create the environments which express a child’s potential – or not.

Before we continue, here are our course objectives:

Course Objectives

1.  Provide an overview of key principles of neurodevelopment crucial for understanding the role of experience in defining functional and physical organization of the brain.

2.  Describe the emerging clinical and research findings in maltreated children that suggest the negative impact of abuse, neglect and trauma on brain development.

3. Outline the clinical implications of a neurodevelopmental approach to child maltreatment. 

4. Discuss the role of public policy and preventative practices in context of the impact of maltreatment on children's emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social and physical health

Now Think About It

Your brain weighs about three pounds. These three pounds, composed primarily of water and fat, allow you to walk and talk, to laugh, cry, and touch, to love and hate, to create and destroy. Everything you do, think and feel, every wish, dream, regret, and hope you experience is mediated by your brain. By sensing the world around you -- storing some fragment of each unique moment, cataloguing, sorting, organizing, and acting on your experiences -- your brain defines you.

It is your brain that allows you to be connected to other human beings in the present. It is your brain that links you to the past through language, religion, economies, and technologies -- all of which essentially reflect the distilled experiences of thousands of generations of our ancestors. And it is also your brain that connects you to the future if you have children and pass elements of your own life experience to them through your example and teaching. Finally, it is your brain -- and the brains of other people throughout history -- that has allowed humankind to create what we know as humanity.

No Science Background Required

Throughout this course, I will provide you with information about the brain's structure and function. This knowledge will create a framework for understanding the impact that maltreatment or trauma may have on the developing child. Don't worry if you're not a "science person." The majority of professionals working with maltreated children do not have a background in biology or the neurosciences, either.

An understanding of the rudiments of human brain function and brain development can provide very useful and practical insight to the all-too-often puzzling emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social, and physical problems that caregivers, parents, teachers, and others face when working with maltreated children.


A Brainy Factoid

You probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that the largest brain on earth belongs to the gigantic sperm whale, weighing in at a massive 20 pounds. But consider that the human brain, at a measly three pounds, is still approximately two percent of a person's body weight. The poor sperm whale (who cannot take brainy courses on the Internet) has a brain that represents only 0.02 percent of its weight!

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