The brain basis for integrated social, emotional, and academic development: How emotions and social relationships drive learning. Immordino-Yang & Chrone (2018)

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Key points of interest

What does brain development involve?

Brain network formation is reflective of a person’s experiences over time, through the reorganization, pruning, and generation of neural connections. Brain development is dependent on interactions between evolutionary paths determined by biology, genes, age, environment, and past experiences.

Can brain science be translated directly into educational policy or practice?

Authors argue that in the majority of the cases, knowledge of brain science does not translate directly. However, they propose that educational policies and practices that take into consideration knowledge on how the brain develops are more likely to promote learning and development. The authors conclude by supporting an integrated whole-child approach to education as the only option that will foster brain development and learning for children.

Although I agree that the authors’ proposal makes logical sense in theory, the challenges will in the careful considerations and selections of WHICH brain science knowledge should be considered in educational policies and practice, WHO should be making the decisions and recommendations, can decisions service ALL students, and HOW do we adjust individual variability? Studies often report averages between groups, however, within-group variability exists. I propose that the goals of educational policy and practice should be to address individual variabilities versus incorporating findings from brain studies that address the average. The goals of educational policy have to be clear as that guides implementation and practice.

Genes and Epigenetics (Environment) interact together contributing to brain development.

While genes provide the limits and constraints (potential) of our development, epigenetic (environmental) conditions affect the process. Both interact dynamically over time. The authors wrote that all children, except in cases of rare severe life-threatening genetic orders, ALL children have the genes essential for brain development and the ability to learn. Under optimal conditions, our development is constrained by genes, while sub-optimal conditions hinder potential to be expressed.

Relationships and social interactions shape the health of the body and the brain.

Our physiology are co-regulated within relationships, which impact our brain functioning.

Most active brain changes occur in the prenatal period through childhood, adolescence, and transition to parenthood, and old age.

The authors highlight opportunities for learning and supports during each of the periods below:

  1. Early childhood – sensory and motor regions become more efficient and interconnected
  2. Middle to late childhood – brain developing networks across regions
  3. Early to middle adolescence – emotional reward, sensitivity to social reputation and higher-order thinking circuits become more developed
  4. Late adolescence to early adulthood – brain circuits in 2. and 3. continue to mature.

Current brain scientists focus on connectivity networks between regions that facilitate different activity modes important for thinking and learning.

The basic structure of such networks seems to be present at birth, over time the networks change according to how the brain is used, in response to environments, opportunities, and relationships.

Three major networks that support mental capacities: executive control network (ECN) (attention- external signals), default mode network (DMN) (internal directed, interpretive and reflective signals), and the salience network (SN) (emotion and facilitate switching between ECN and DMN).

Educational Implications

Authors propose that optimal learning environments should attend to age-appropriate ways to develop each of the three major networks.

Physiological preconditions that must be met for optional brain development and learning.

Authors include sleep, physical activities, nutrition, emotional well-being, social relationships, cultural well-being, and safety/belonging.


This article makes the case that physiological, academic, social, and emotional development are interlaced, therefore the call for collaborative educator-community partnerships is essential to support families and children’s health and well-being. Supportive parenting, relationships, community, and school programs can help foster resilience against stress.

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