Brain Network Development Under Adversity
TWCF Number
Project Duration
September 24 / 2023
- September 22 / 2026
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
Amount Awarded

* A Grant DOI (digital object identifier) is a unique, open, global, persistent and machine-actionable identifier for a grant.

Duncan Astle
Institution University of Cambridge

Danyal Akarca
Institution University of Cambridge

The environment in which children grow up has a critical impact on their later flourishing, in part because it actively shapes the development of their nervous systems. Numerous developmental theories posit the brain as an adaptive organ that responds to its early experiences by acquiring the features that best suit the individual to thrive in their unique environment. But because of the astonishing complexity of the brain, scientists have yet to understand exactly how early experiences – including those of adversity and hardship – interact with brain network development.

This project, led by Duncan Astle and Danyal Akarca at Cambridge University, addresses the need to understand how and why brain organization adapts to adverse environments early in life. Preliminary findings reveal that the brains of young children may be substantially affected by their environment according to a simple mechanism based on the stochasticity with which new connections are formed. If confirmed, then it can provide an explanation that links basic concepts in evolution directly to human flourishing. This would yield a significant contribution to understanding human nature.

The project aims to integrate population-level neuroimaging with computational modeling (simulating development of connectomes) in order to understand how developing brain networks adapt to early life adversity and what benefits these changes might offer in adverse environments. This novel project will be carried out with an integrated set of research questions and methods. The studies will be done in three work packages. The first will explore the effects of the timing and type of experiences on stochasticity-related outcomes. The second work package will explore the dosage response of adverse experiences. The third work package will explore how and when stochasticity might be beneficial, leading to robustness and resilience against further adversity.

Opinions expressed on this page, or any media linked to it, do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc. does not control the content of external links.
Related Blog Post
Human Flourishing Conference with Andrew Serazin, Heather Templeton Dill, Duncan Astle & Maritza Trejo (podcast)
Hear about what the Human Flourishing conference accomplished, why it matters, and how it will continue to have an impact.

Read More
Person doing research
Projects &
Explore the projects we’ve funded. We’ve awarded hundreds of grants to researchers and institutions worldwide.

Projects & Resources