Giving young girls a stimulating environment may one day affect their children’s brain power, says a recent report in in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Study author Dean Hartley, associate professor of neurological sciences at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, says that providing an enriched atmosphere for mice — coloured balls, toys and a running wheel — helped them overcome a genetically created defect in memory.
Hartley points out that this adds weight to the “nurture” side of the nature-versus-nurture debate. It is not just our genetic structure but also our environment that shapes us, he says, and even a pre-existing intellectual deficit can be overcome.
What startled researchers, he says, is that the “rescue effect” was passed on to the next generation.
Researchers followed the offspring of these mice and discovered they too had improved memories without having had enriched environments themselves, although their babies did not.
“Environmental enrichment during youth has dramatic additional powers,” Hartley says.
To make sure the baby mice weren’t just benefiting from improved parenting by the enriched mothers, some were raised by foster parents. They continued to show improved memories.