Peter Gluckman: Mixed cues confuse young brains

Excerpts from a column by Professor Gluckman, director of the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland, a leading centre for research on fetal and child health, breast cancer, epigenetics and evolutionary medicine.

Read the column in full here.

Some excerpts:

“Just as many have not adapted to fast food and develop diabetes, it is now clear much of what we label behavioural disorder is the result of living in an environment our brains are simply not designed for.

“Technological advances over the last generation have made society infinitely more complex and placed enormous pressures on the human brain. We now have thousands of interactions each year.

“Many – particularly via electronic media – do not involve direct contact, yet have an emotional impact and stretch the capacity of our brains to adapt. Nowhere are these pressures more intense than for our young people.”


“Society has further compounded the problem through the ambiguous, hedonistic messages of media and marketing that seek to exploit this gap between the maturation of body and brain.

“We urgently need to reduce this gap. We have learnt, first in rats and most recently in humans, that stressful events in early life can permanently alter the way genes work in the brain. This is a naturally evolved process.

“If early inputs predict a risky world, then survival is more likely if one has a shorter attention span, is more aggressive and more anxious. People living in stressful environments are more likely to have children whose behaviours fit such environments rather than our societal norms.”