Andy’s Quick Hits (48): Learning Before Age Five Can be Seen in the Brain Forty Years Later

Andy Hab
2 min readJul 21, 2021

Education before age five leaves structural changes to the brain, identifiable forty years later — impressive! This is the beauty of long-term longitudinal studies (the negative side is you have to wait decades to get the results).

Abecedarian Project was an early education randomised controlled trial that has followed development since 1971 in North Carolina in the USA. In this project there was a control group (of 18) and an educational group (of 29) in groups of high-risk infants i.e. from socially under-privileged children. Both groups received extra health care, nutrition, and family support services. The education group received in addition, five years of high quality educational support (from 6 weeks old!), five days a week, 50 weeks a year.

Therefore this gives us a good control with similar situations and similar levels of support and the biggest difference being the education given in the first five years of life.

In the meantime neuroscientific advances have now enabled deep insight into what has actually happened in these individual's brains, unthinkable when this started in the 1970’s, and the results are dramatic.

Specifically, the brain as a whole was on average larger with greater cortical thickness — and five regions associated with language ability, cognitive control and memory also increased size.

That’s pretty impressive.

“This has exciting implications for the basic science of brain development, as well as for theories of social stratification and social policy,” — Martha Farah

“We have demonstrated that in vulnerable children who received stimulating and emotionally supportive learning experiences, statistically significant changes in…



Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!