The Effects of Early Severe Psychosocial Deprivation on Children’s Cognitive and Social Development: Lessons from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project

  • Nathan A. FoxEmail author
  • Charles A. NelsonIII
  • Charles H. ZeanahJr
Part of the National Symposium on Family Issues book series (NSFI)


Developmental psychologists have long been interested in understanding the effects of early experience on brain and behavior. Much of the research in this area has been with rodents and nonhuman primates. There are, however, situations in which infants and young children are exposed to severe psychosocial deprivation that are amenable to the study of early experience. Infants raised in institutions represent such a group. Indeed, the institutionalization of infants and young children is a worldwide problem, and the study of the effects of this early experience on child development, as well as potential interventions for children in these situations, is of public health importance. This chapter presents an overview of one such study: the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP). One hundred thirty-six infants and young children living in institutions in Romania were randomized either to be placed in foster family care contexts (foster care group) or to remain in the institutions in which they lived (care as usual group). These children were assessed at 30, 42, 54, and 96 months of age across a broad set of domains. This chapter presents data on two such domains: IQ and attachment. Findings from the BEIP suggest that institutionalization is detrimental to the cognitive and social development of children and that infants and young children living in such situations should be placed as early as possible into family contexts.


Foster Care Intelligence Quotient Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorganize Attachment Institutionalize Child 
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This work was generously supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development), the Binder Family Foundation, and the NIMH (MH091363) to C. Nelson. The authors wish to thank our dedicated Bucharest-based lab members and the many families and children who participated in this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathan A. Fox
    • 1
    Email author
  • Charles A. NelsonIII
    • 2
  • Charles H. ZeanahJr
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Human DevelopmentUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PediatricsBoston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA

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