Early Experiences Can Alter Gene Expression & Affect Development

Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child

Brain Architecture, Stress, Social Policy

December 2009

New scientific research shows that environmental influences can actually affect whether and how genes are expressed. The old ideas that genes are “set in stone” or that they alone determine development have been disproven. In fact, scientists have discovered that early experiences can determine how genes are turned on and off and even whether some are expressed at all. Therefore, the experiences children have early in life – and the environments in which they have them – shape their developing brain architecture and strongly affect whether they grow up to be healthy, productive members of society. This growing scientific evidence supports the need for society to re-examine the way it thinks about the circumstances and experiences to which young children are exposed.