2.2 The Development of our Brain

2.2 The Development of our Brain

As aforementioned, some NEETs can in fact be people who have experienced traumatic experiences in their early life (like refugees or asylum seekers). Therefore, it is important, for their better integration in the labour market, to address these instabilities and consequently help them find a job.

A traumatic experience can lead to serious psychological disorders, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994). The literature shows that, even though men report more exposure to traumatic experiences (Kessler, Sonnega, Bromet, Hughes, & Nelson, 1995), women develop PTSD more often than men (Christiansen & Hansen, 2015). Since the majority of NEETs are women, it is important to focus on this variable when looking into NEET integration in the labour market.

So, what implications does a potentially traumatic experience have on the development of an early brain?

The brain develops as the child grows from birth to adolescence in a hierarchy way (see the diagram):

3. Thinking, planning, inhibiting & learning (cortical brain)

2. Attachment, emotions, and behaviour (limbic brain)

1. Motor and sensory input (brain stem/mid brain)




The most primitive part, which is the area that is developed the earliest (the brainstem) is responsible for keeping us safe. It is the part of the brain that enables us to run from danger, fight for our life or freeze inside. This mechanism is activated if the child is exposed to dangerous environments. In these environments, the brainstem will constantly be on high alert, seeking safety by preventing danger.

The problem for traumatised children is that when they transition into a safe environment, the primitive brain does not turn off. This means the child stays continuously in “survival mode”; and normal every-day events signal danger to their brain.

Whilst they are stuck here, they cannot form secure attachments; manage their emotions or behaviour (in the limbic brain); think, learn or reflect (in the cortical brain), because they “fighting for survival” in a world that they feel is highly dangerous. In sum, children’s brains develop from the Bottom-Up, and the higher brain regions do not work properly if the lower brain regions are stuck. This can even impair academic learning, which happens in the cortical brain (Beacon House, 2017).

Studies show that, if not addressed, a traumatised person is more likely to engage in violent behaviour as a solution for their future conflicts (Pomeroy, 1995). A later study underlined this relationship, claiming that falling victim of a violent crime is one of the best traumatic predictors of violence (Neller, Denney, Pietz, & Thomlinson, 2005). The engagement in these anti-social behaviours can be an obstacle for a smooth social integration, especially for the labour market. A more recent study researched the PTSD suffered by Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans. The study showed that almost half of all veterans had some level of impairment in their intimate relationship functioning and about a quarter reported impairments in their occupational functioning. This suggests that PTSD can affect various aspects of your life that are not related to the traumatic experience (Vogt et al., 2017).

These findings highlight the implications of trauma on everyday routines, personal life, and in academic achievements. Therefore, it is important to shed light on trauma when looking into integrating young NEETs in the workforce, since this can be a big obstacle for their labour success.


Reflective questions for the reader:

  1. Have you ever encountered a NEET who has potentially suffered a traumatic experience?
  2. Did you know about the implications of a traumatic experience on a persons’ life?
  3. Why do people who have lived traumatic experiences need help?