Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology

2011 Edition
| Editors: Jeffrey S. Kreutzer, John DeLuca, Bruce Caplan

Sensitive Periods

  • Doug Bodin
  • Keith Owen Yeates
  • Jennifer Cass
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-79948-3_1593



The term sensitive period refers to the notion that the effects of environmental stimuli on the developing organism are stronger during certain periods of development. The traditional term, “critical period,” was based on the assumption that these developmental periods were innate and had a fixed onset and termination. However, more recent research has suggested that they are influenced by environmental factors and are flexible in terms of their beginning and end; thus, the term “sensitive periods” is more commonly preferred (Michel & Taylor, 2005).

Additional distinctions have been made between the terms “sensitive” and “critical” period. Fox (1970) suggested that the term “critical period” be used when a specific environmental stimulus is needed to cue normal development, whereas the term “sensitive period” be used to describe when the development is more easily influenced by a negative environmental event. The relative vulnerability of the...

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References and Readings

  1. Fox, M. W. (1970). Overview and critique of stages and periods in canine development. Developmental Psychobiology, 4, 37.Google Scholar
  2. Johnson, M. H. (2005). Sensitive periods in functional brain development: Problems and prospects. Developmental Psychobiology, 46, 287–292.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Knudsen, E. I. (2004). Sensitive periods in the development of the brain and behaviour. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 16, 1412–1425.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Michel, F. T., & Tyler, A. N. (2005). Critical period: A history of the transition from questions of when, to what, to how. Developmental Psychobiology, 46, 156–162.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Spreen, O., Risser, A. H., & Edgell, D. (1995). Critical periods, plasticity, and recovery of function. In Developmental neuropsychology (pp. 139–155). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Stiles, J. (2008). The fundamentals of brain development (pp. 313–358). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Thomas, M. S. C., & Johnson, M. H. (2008). New advances in understanding sensitive periods in brain development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 1–5.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Doug Bodin
    • 1
  • Keith Owen Yeates
    • 2
  • Jennifer Cass
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PediatricsNationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyNationwide Children's HospitalColumbusUSA