Experience is the engine that drives much of postnatal brain development. When children are deprived of key (i.e., experience-expected) experiences, particularly during critical periods of development, brain and behavioral development can be derailed. There is perhaps no more egregious form of deprivation than being raised in large, state-run institutions.
In my talk, I will introduce a project launched 17 years ago, based in Bucharest, Romania. In the Bucharest Early Intervention Project three groups of Romanian children are being studied: infants abandoned to institutions and who remain in institutional care; infants abandoned to institutions but then placed in high quality foster care; and infants who have never been institutionalized. These three groups have been studied through age 16, with a 20 year follow up being planned. In my talk I will introduce the overall project, including its conceptual framework, its experimental design, the ethics involved in conducting this work and the nature of the intervention we deployed. I will then briefly summarize findings from several key domains, including cognitive development, social-emotional development, psychopathology, brain development and stress physiology.