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This is Your Brain on Stress

Naked Capitalism linked me to an article from the Pacific Standard that describes how research on smoking cessation and obesity led to insights in how stress affects mental health, physical health, student behavior… and learning.

In the 1990s, two public health researchers, Robert Anda and Vincent Felitti, completed studies on smoking cessation and obesity that reached the same conclusion: those who could not shake their smoking or eating habits a common trait— adversity in their childhood. The two conducted a study on patients insured by Kaiser Permanente in San Diego and found a similarly strong correlation between serious medical problems and childhood adversity. Their so-called ACE study (for Adverse Childhood Eexperiences) became the basis for a comprehensive approach to dealing with children in the state of Washington and their are promising signs of the program paying off. The major effort to promote this holistic approach was led by the Family Policy Council, an interagency collaborative, whose main work

“…has essentially been to make ACE awareness go viral across the state. In addition to setting up summits and talks and training programs, the Council established cells of citizens and social service workers, called Community Public Health and Safety Networks, in 42 towns and cities across the state…”

The article has more details on the research studies that led to the ACE survey being used to determine which students are at risk, how Lincoln, an alternative school in Walla Walla WA made extensive use of the research to good effect, and provides several anecdotes that exemplify the findings of the ACE study. The article concludes on a cautionary note:

Researchers are, as a rule, instinctively wary of practitioners and popularizers getting ahead of good science. Philip Fisher, a research psychologist at the University of Oregon who studies the dynamics of resilience in children who have undergone trauma, is hesitant about the vogue for invoking mechanistic understandings of the brain—especially given how incomplete our understanding of those mechanisms is….

But at the same time, Fisher realizes that the rising tide of popular interest in stress and its effects, and the early efforts of people like the staff at Lincoln, will ultimately help the cause of his research. Growing awareness… will translate to more funding for research, which will allow people to understand what parts of Washington’s approach are working.

The article shows the value of interagency collaboration and the value of schools working closely with parents and other support agencies to help students gain self-awareness… and that self-awareness will help them overcome the adversity they encountered earlier in their lives and help them become the kind of self-directed learners we will need in the future.

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  1. May 10, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Please feel free to join the network ACEsConnection a website just for the community of people who are implementing — or thinking of implementing — ACE concepts in international, national, state or local agencies, organizations, or communities.

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