The Challenge of Decoupling

Scientific evidence from a range of disciplines confirms the close connections between early developmental processes and subsequent behavior. Thus, traumatic stress in early childhood can have enduring effects, that in extreme cases may be irreversible despite later remedial or attenuating behavior (Shonkoff et al). A well known example of this coupling between experience and conduct is the case of Romanian orphans, so severely neglected and deprived of sensory stimulation in very early childhood that later intense nurturing failed to reverse serious cognitive and affective deficits (Nelson). Profound neglect is one form of traumatic stressor; violence is another. Research on early childhood confirms the statistical correlation between early exposure to violence, and enduring, often life long, violent subsequent behavior. (Kagitcibasi) Children subjected at home to physical child abuse are more likely to be abusers than those not so exposed; the same is true of children exposed to familial sexual abuse, or of street children who endure police brutality or the violence of gang members from an early age (Rizzini).

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