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Empathy, Compassion and Connection: Impact on Human Development

Over the course of the last century Developmental Psychology has attempted to explain the development of key characteristics throughout the human life. The aim of developing this body of knowledge has been to provide guidance to support the lives of children and families. In the late 19th century Freud proposed that un-assimilated trauma was the route cause for all psychological maladaption, a change from the previous Darwinian group-thought that attributed healthy human intellectual, behavioural and social development to thriving genetic precursors. Neither the nature nor nurture theory fully explained the delicate balance of interplay between our genetic blue print and environmental exposures and experiences that scientists are beginning to understand in more depth within the speciality of Epigenetics. (Turkheimer E., 2020). The epigenome represents a dynamic adaptation to environmental conditions and therefore plays an important role whilst we evaluate the interplay between nature and nurture in human development. Regulation of the human genome by the epigenome is a profound, inherited, physiologic process and plays a central role in the materialisation of traits that influence human development.

With our global population ever more closely linked on-line in a world united through mandated isolation of 2020, developmental psychologists need to be ever-mindful of socio-economic and geographic cultural nuances within their research and practice. This essay aims to evaluate the progress that has been made to understand the impact of early life experiences on human development and potential remedial approaches within two distinct minority groups: 1. children in care and 2. children living through war-related trauma.

Since the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study was developed in the USA in the 1990s, the importance of a loving and happy early life on psychological and indeed physiological development has been given more gravitas, however it has taken time for this research to influence policy decision makers for those assisting minority groups such as children in care. A high ACE score is positively correlated with long-term negative effects on development, including increased maladaptive personality traits, a higher risk of mental health disorders such as complex PTSD, learning disabilities and psychiatric disorders (Gescher et al., 2018). Research examining the roots of abnormal development shaped by early life events has shown malfunctioning of the stress response system and hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis activity in children and adults (Tyrka et al., 2016). The most common reason for foster care placement is child m