Synaptic Exuberance: Babies Overdo It

Brains of babies are simply amazing. Babies are like little scientists or explorers collecting data/information from their surroundings and analyzing them every moment, every second they are growing up. It’s just amazing to observe how the brains of babies work. When babies are born, their brain cells lack the synaptic connections (connections between brain cells). As they explore their new world, these experiences  lead to building of connections between different cells (“synaptic exuberance”). During the first few formative years baby brains are very active, building up millions of such links between the cells. The process starts at birth and peaks up when they are 8-9 months old.

Cerebral cortex produces most of its synaptic connections after birth, in a massive burst of synapse formation known as the exuberant period. At its peak, the cerebral cortex creates an astonishing two million new synapses every second. With these new connections come a baby’s many mental milestones, such as color vision, a pincer grasp, or a strong attachment to his parents. By two years of age, a toddler’s cerebral cortex contains well over a hundred trillion synapses. []

In the above time-lapse video , Francis Vachon who is a journalist and photographer in Quebec, Canada, recorded the 4-hour activity of his 9 months old son Edward. You can see how baby Edward is exploring his surroundings during his 4-hour stay in the room.  (If some of you wonder whether the baby was left alone in the room for 4-hours, don’t worry he was not left alone. The shots of adults in the video has been cut to increase the cuteness factor of the video.)

If you look at the plot below, it’s the formative age when most of the cell connections in the brain are made and then the connections start dying out during teenage years. It’s not like we are becoming dumber as we grow up (or maybe we are), but the baby brains overdo the process of making cell connections. As we grow, our life style preferences, nurturing,and  social influences starts  optimizing or fine tuning these connections. The ones  we need are retained and strengthened while the ones which are no more required starts dying out. This process makes each individual unique with a unique personality trait, mentality, aptitude and so on.

Story Source: NPR Robert Kulrwich

Plot credit: Peter R. Huttenlocher/Elsevier Ltd


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