evidence now suggests that these effects can be prevented or reduced by appropriately designed interventions if they are delivered at the proper time. Thus, for example, interventions focused on fostering the bonding and attachment of caregiver and child should begin at birth and be supported for the first several years of a child’s life. This is the aim of such approaches as home visitation and high-quality preschool, which are discussed in the following chapters. On the other hand, the brain continues to develop and retains a large capacity for plasticity throughout infancy, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood as the neural systems that support such behaviors as attachment, socialization, learning, and self-regulation are refined to achieve healthy cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning. Evidence from both traditional models of learned behavior and more novel fields of investigation, such as epigenetics, suggests that environmental improvements can produce long-term changes in brain structure and function, and thus interventions applied even after the optimal sensitive periods of development can attenuate the effects of early adverse experiences.
Later developmental stages also bring developmentally specific opportunities to promote protective factors related to more mature behaviors—for example, building social relationships. Difficulties in developing and maintaining healthy relationships are an important aspect of many MEB disorders. Therefore, influencing social relationships positively and building networks of support in families, schools, and communities are among the primary aims of a wide array of prevention programs, as described in Chapters 6 and 7.
The development of the neural systems that support self-regulatory functions is important for acquiring developmentally appropriate neuro-cognitive skills that affect mental health and risk for MEB disorders (Blair, 2002; Fishbein, 2000; Greenberg, 2006; Pennington and Ozonoff, 1996; Rothbart and Posner, 2006; Riggs and Greenberg, 2004). Numerous studies have shown that appropriately designed and implemented interventions can improve self-regulatory control of thoughts, emotions, and behavior in people of all ages, even young children (Dowsett and Livesey, 2000; Rueda, Posner, and Rothbart, 2005), and several curricula and training programs have been designed to promote self-regulation in prevention frameworks. For example, the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) program (described in Box 6-7 in Chapter 6) has been shown to increase inhibitory control and working memory (Greenberg, 2006). Likewise, the preschool curriculum Tools of the Mind, designed to build inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, has been shown to improve these functions in an at-risk population (Diamond, Barnett, et al., 2007).
Another area in which research in developmental neuroscience has implications for prevention of MEB disorders is targeting the appropriate individuals for the delivery of interventions. The identification of children