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Sensitive Period

The developing human brain comes to anticipate certain kinds of input at specific times. Eric Knudsen, a neurobiologist at Stanford University, defines sensitive periods as limited periods in development when the effects of an experience on the developing brain are particularly strong. These periods allow the individual’s experience to instruct neural circuits (connected neurons that process specific kinds of information) to process information adaptively, laying the foundation for future learning. There are numerous studies in animals that illustrate these periods; however, human studies are rare given ethical and technical challenges. Still, a human infant’s experiences, including those interacting with primary caregivers, are believed to play a vital role in sculpting the neural circuitry of the developing brain. This entry discusses the properties of sensitive periods, ...

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