At the Health Journalism 2013 session on Shaping the Pediatric Brain, independent journalist David Dobbs shared insights on researching and writing his 2009 article for The Atlantic, “The Science of Success.”
The article served as a springboard for a book that Dobbs is working on about behavioral genetics, tentatively titled “The Orchid and the Dandelion.” The book title plays off a new theory of genetics based on the hypothesis that “dandelion” children appear to grow up okay regardless of their environment. That is, they’ll be fine in a garden, a greenhouse or a crack in the sidewalk.
“Orchid” children, on the other hand, thrive under good care (a greenhouse), do okay in a so-so environment (garden), and wilt in a bad environment (crack in the sidewalk). Over the past couple of years, this hypothesis has started gaining momentum among child development specialists and behavioral geneticists interested in how environment and genetics shape who we are. Continue reading
The notion that what happens to you when you’re young can stay with you for years is a compelling one, but it’s not new.
A look at some of the issues, sessions and ideas to keep in mind for those planning to attend Health Journalism 2013, the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
Sigmund Freud became a cultural icon for his theories on early experience and the future psyche. Literature has long weaved childhood memories into adult relationships and mental wellbeing. So have movies. (See: “The Three Faces of Eve,” “Prince of Tides,” “Mystic River”….) The concept simply resonates – both as a psychological construct, and as a metaphorical one.
So why have a conference session now on this seemingly classic idea?
Neuroscience – that’s why. The discipline of brain research has exploded in recent years – largely as a result of beautiful new imaging methods and advanced genetic technology. Scientists can compare the brains of very young children with those same brains years later. They can compare the brains of people who underwent certain childhood experiences (good or bad) with those who didn’t. Or they can seek answers about humans through brain research on animals. All this helps find connections between trauma and brain structure, between genetic make-up and resilience – with a farther-off goal of developing helpful therapies. I think it also feeds into one of the most enduring questions of psychology: which qualities are innate, and which ones are molded by time, development, and experience. Continue reading