Charles A. Nelson III

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Charles A. Nelson III is an American neuroscientist and psychologist.[1] His international projects include a long-standing project (with Drs. Nathan Fox and Charles Zeanah) on institutionalized children in Romania,[2] children growing up in a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh,[3] infants in Puerto Rico exposed to the Zika virus,[4] and children growing up in challenging circumstances in Sao Paulo, Brazil.[5]. Dr. Nelson has also focused his research efforts on the development of memory and the ability to recognize facial expressions of emotion in infants and young children.[6]

Nelson is a Professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience and a Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Professor of Education at Harvard University, and a Professor in the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.[7] Nelson is the Director of Research in the Division of Developmental Medicine, Director of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience and the Richard David Scott Professor of Pediatric Developmental Medicine Research at Boston Children's Hospital.[8] Nelson led a research network (funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) on early experience and brain development.[9] Nelson was elected into the National Academy of Medicine in 2018.[10]

Early career[edit]

Nelson completed his undergraduate degree at McGill University in Montreal.[11] He has a master's degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas.[12]

Nelson completed postdoctoral training in electrophysiology at the University of Minnesota, then took his first faculty position at Purdue University in 1984, and then moved back to the University of Minnesota in 1986 to join the faculty in the Institute of Child Development. Nelson's research laboratory at the University of Minnesota used electroencephalography to study the development of young children, particularly face processing and memory development.[13] Dr. Nelson moved to Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital in 2005.

Nelson Lab Studies[edit]

Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP)[edit]

Nelson is a lead researcher in the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, along with colleagues Nathan Fox and Charles Zeanah. The three researchers began the project in Bucharest, Romania in 2000. In the study, infants, abandoned since birth and raised in institutions in Bucharest, were randomly assigned either to be removed from the institution and placed into foster care or to remain in the institutions.[14] The study is designed to examine the effects of institutionalization on the brain and behavioral development of young children and to determine if these effects can be remediated through intervention, in this case foster care. To date, BEIP has demonstrated that children raised in institutions suffer from a range of significant developmental challenges, and that children removed from institutional care and placed in high quality foster care have far better developmental outcomes than children who remain in institutions but the degree of recovery from institutional care is largely mediated by how long children remain in an institution.[15]

Bangladesh Early Adversity Project (BEAN)[edit]

The Bangladesh Early Adversity Project aims to assess the effects of early adversities (e.g, biological, environmental, psychosocial) on child cognitive development. To do this, Nelson established a neuroimaging lab in Dhaka, Bangladesh where the project studies numerous cohorts below 5 years of age using methods such as EEG, fNIRS, MRI as well as behavioral measures.[16]

Emotion Project[edit]

The Emotion Project is a large, longitudinal study that explores how the nature and neural architecture of emotion processing develops from infancy to early childhood. 807 typically-developing infants participated in the study at either 5, 7, or 12 months of age.[17] The data collected over the course of this study helped Nelson and his team assess how young children's differing perceptions of emotions could predict future childhood behaviors.[18]

Infant Screening Project (ISP)[edit]

Despite tremendous advances being made in human understanding of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the average age of diagnosis of an ASD in the United States is >3 years of age, although in some cases a reliable diagnosis can be made as young as 18 months.[19] The goal of the Infant Screening Project is to find signs that suggest risk for this disorder between infants with an older sibling with an autism spectrum disorder, typically developing infants, and those displaying developmental concern based on early differences detected on a screening tool.[20]


Peer-reviewed journal articles[edit]

  • Pascalis, O.; de Haan, M; Nelson, CA (17 May 2002). "Is Face Processing Species-Specific During the First Year of Life?". Science. 296 (5571): 1321–1323. doi:10.1126/science.1070223.
  • Costello, EJ; Pine, DS; Hammen, C; March, JS; Plotsky, PM; Weissman, MM; Biederman, J; Goldsmith, HH; Kaufman, J; Lewinsohn, PM; Hellander, M; Hoagwood, K; Koretz, DS; Nelson, CA; Leckman, JF (15 September 2002). "Development and natural history of mood disorders". Biological psychiatry. 52 (6): 529–42. PMID 12361667.
  • Pascalis, O.; Scott, L. S.; Kelly, D. J.; Shannon, R. W.; Nicholson, E.; Coleman, M.; Nelson, C. A. (24 March 2005). "Plasticity of face processing in infancy". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (14): 5297–5300. doi:10.1073/pnas.0406627102.


  • Nelson, Charles A.; de Haan, Michelle; Thomas, Kathleen M. (2006). Neuroscience and Cognitive Development: The Role of Experience and the Developing Brain. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Nelson, Charles A.; Fox, Nathan A.; Zeanah, Charles H. (2014). Romania's abandoned children : deprivation, brain development, and the struggle for recovery. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[21] [22]

Essays and reporting[edit]


  1. ^ Xie, W; McCormick, SA; Westerlund, A; Bowman, LC; Nelson, CA (1 October 2018). "Neural correlates of facial emotion processing in infancy". Developmental science: e12758. doi:10.1111/desc.12758. PMID 30276933.
  2. ^ Hamilton, Jon (February 24, 2014). "Orphans' Lonely Beginnings Reveal How Parents Shape A Child's Brain", NPR. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
  3. ^ "Getting Ahead of Hardship Spring 2016".
  4. ^ Bhutta, Zulfiqar A.; Guerrant, Richard L.; Nelson, Charles A. (31 March 2017). "Neurodevelopment, Nutrition, and Inflammation: The Evolving Global Child Health Landscape". Pediatrics. 139 (Supplement 1): S12–S22. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2828D.
  5. ^ "Faculty Research".
  6. ^ Bayet, L; Behrendt, HF; Cataldo, JK; Westerlund, A; Nelson, CA (18 October 2018). "Recognition of facial emotions of varying intensities by three-year-olds". Developmental psychology. doi:10.1037/dev0000588. PMID 30335429.
  7. ^ "Charles A. Nelson III Harvard Faculty Page".
  8. ^ "Boston Children's Hospital Faculty: Charles A. Nelson".
  9. ^ "MacArthur Foundation". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  10. ^ "National Academy of Medicine Elects 85 New Members - National Academy of Medicine". National Academy of Medicine. 15 October 2018.
  11. ^ Weintraub, Karen (February 17, 2014). "Bringing home plight of abandoned children", The Boston Globe. Retrieved September 23, 2014.
  12. ^ "Charles A. Nelson, PhD Archived September 9, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.", Boston's Children's Hospital. Retrieved September 23, 2014.
  13. ^ Hughes, Virginia (July 29, 2013). "Detachment: How can scientists act ethically when they are studying the victims of a human tragedy, such as the Romanian orphans?", Aeon. Retrieved September 23, 2014.
  14. ^ Zeanah, CH; Nelson, CA; Fox, NA; Smyke, AT; Marshall, P; Parker, SW; Koga, S (2003). "Designing research to study the effects of institutionalization on brain and behavioral development: the Bucharest Early Intervention Project". Development and psychopathology. 15 (4): 885–907. PMID 14984131.
  15. ^ Zeanah, Charles; Nelson, Charles; Fox, Nathan; Smyke, Anna; Marshall, Peter; Parker, Susan; Koga, Sebastian (February 2003). "Designing research to study the effects of institutionalization on brain and behavioral development: The Bucharest Early Intervention Project". Development and psychopathology. 15 (4): 885–907. doi:10.1017/S0954579403000452. PMID 14984131.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Emotion Processing in Infancy and Early Childhood". Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience.
  18. ^ Bayet, Laurie; Behrendt, Hannah F.; Cataldo, Julia K.; Westerlund, Alissa; Nelson, Charles A. (December 2018). "Recognition of facial emotions of varying intensities by three-year-olds". Developmental Psychology. 54 (12): 2240–2247. doi:10.1037/dev0000588.
  19. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Autism Speaks.
  20. ^ "Infant Screening Project". Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  21. ^ Lazerson, Floyd E. Bloom; Charles A. Nelson; Arlyne; Bloom, Floyd; Lazerson, Arlyne (2001). Brain, mind, and behavior (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publ. ISBN 0716723891.
  22. ^ Zeanah, Charles; Nelson, Charles; Fox, Nathan (January 6, 2014). Romania's abandoned children : deprivation, brain development, and the struggle for recovery. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674724704.

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