Former Vice President
UNESCO Center of Getafe-Madrid, SPAIN

Maria Cruz Rodríguez del Cerrois an author of over 50 scientific and review articles published in high-impact international journals. From 2009 to 2019, Maria Cruz Rodríguez del Cerroserved has as Vice President of the UNESCO Center of Getafe (Madrid, Spain) and as Director of the Cabinet of the President of the Economic and Social Council of the King of Spain from the years of 2002-2006. Further, she was the principal investigator and co-principal investigator in 17 national and international research projects, as well as the organizer of national and international Congresses of Psychobiology and Behavioral Neuroscience. As a visiting professor, Maria Cruz Rodríguez del Cerro lectures at Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey and University of California, Irvine. She holds a PhD in Psychobiology from Psychology School of National University of Distance Education (Madrid, Spain).

Event Title: Advancing Youth through Social and Economic Empowerment Date: September 25, 2019


Education as a tool to create peaceful and inclusive societies

My aim is to highlight the importance of the first parent-baby relationship for the future of the individual and, thereby, of society. The title indicates that we can shape our brains and thereby our behavior mainly through early life affective interactions. A bit later in life, enters another powerful factor, Education.  Affection and Education: both impact the way in which people live their lives. The structure of our brain is based on the research of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the eminent neurophysiologist who is well known as the father of Neuroscience. One of his most significant contributions to the knowledge of the Nervous System was the phenomenon of the growth and development of neurons in mammals, as a function of their behavioral experience. Why do I introduce my talk with this insight?  It is because the idea of the statement, EDUCATION FOR PEACE, is directly linked to the concept of Brain and Behavior. Taking into account these ideas, we can assume that Family and School are the major influences on the structural and functional development of our brain and our behavior. The Environment is a third factor that plays a significant role in this process.  During gestation and during the post-natal period, through our mothers, the Environment internal and external…affects our brain development.

“Education, as one of the critical factors, … shall be directed toward the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”  ( Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). On the other hand, Peace education is the process of acquiring the values and knowledge, and developing the attitudes, skills, and behavior to live in harmony with oneself, with others, and with the natural environment”.

Monisha Bajaj (ed.) Encyclopedia of Peace Education. (pp. 75-83). Frequently, the programs devoted to Education for Peace are directed toward Educative and NGO policies. My aim here, today, is to alert stake-holders and representatives from different institutions involved in Peace Education Programs as to the ways in which gestation, the perinatal period, and the first years of life, play a crucial role in the structural development of the brain and the subsequent development of the behavior of individuals. This unifying concept is based on neuroscientific studies of my colleagues and my own research group (of UNED, Madrid, Spain; Rutgers Univ. NJ, USA).

How do we develop our understanding of brain and behavioral function?  We need to use animal models to study questions such as molecular processes underlying brain development, neurochemical mechanisms, neurotransmission, and communication among neurons. Using Positron Emission Tomography imaging technology (or PET), neuroscientists have found dramatic changes in the level of energy use by children’s brains over the first several years of life—from very low at birth, to a rapid rise between infancy and early school years, to a gradual decline to adult levels between middle childhood and the end of adolescence. Imitation using so-called mirror neurons of the cortex of the brain is one way by which baby and parents communicate. Touching, listening, kissing… all types of interactions, contacts with the baby, healthy or even unhealthy, can produce specific responses of hormone secretion in the baby, which will affect its brain structure and neural transmission systems.  Behavior “per se” can be a significant factor affecting brain development. Inappropriate maternal or paternal care of children has been shown to have a detrimental influence on the development of children’s affective behavior and cognitive ability.

During the first years of life, connections among neurons are forming for the processes of learning and memory. Approximately 70 % of the total number of synapses, which are the connections among neurons, are formed from 0 to 6 years.  An additional 20% of synapses form between the ages of 10 and 15.

The main message that we should transmit to our young people is to appreciate the effects of both internal and external environmental stimuli on the plasticity of the brain, which thereby profoundly affects subsequent behavior.  Currently, some programs that convey such information to young people are: Brain Awareness Week (National Museum of Health and Medicine, USA), Semana del Cerebro (UNESCO, Getafe-Madrid, Spain), E4P (Education for Peace, Switzerland).

  I want to emphasize that as a priority, we need to introduce, in the UNGA agenda, the following statement: good care during gestation and the early post-natal period can promote healthy development of relationships and social behavior and help to reduce anti-social behavior. Through simple and inexpensive educational programs we may contribute to sustainable peace by demonstrating to children and young people the importance of their early brain developmental period.

If we would pay more attention to this critical period of human brain development, we could most likely significantly reduce anti-social behavior, thereby benefitting society. Thus, this issue is in direct support of the goals of the 2030 UNGA agenda, that is, better care for women and children including their empowerment at the local, national, and global levels. 

  In conclusion, I would like to answer the question “Why Brain and Peace Education?”. Let me answer it with the following quote from the preamble of the UNESCO Constitution:

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”

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