As the X-ray images of the brains of two 3-year old children showed, the brain of the loved child was twice as big as the brain of the neglected one.
The child whose brain is on the left of the picture had a caregiver who developed a positive relationship with it, full of love, care, and respect. On the other hand, the child whose brain appears on the right was ignored, neglected, and abused.
The Telegraph published an article in 2012, saying that:
“The child on the right will grow into an adult who is less intelligent, less able to empathize with others, more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime … and to develop mental and other serious health problems.”
At this time, neurologists were starting to understand the way in which the interaction between the baby and the mother affected the growth of its brain.
Allan Schore, UCLA psychiatry professor, and one of the leading neurologists in this field claims that the growth of the brain of the baby “literally requires positive interaction between mother and infant, as the development of cerebral circuits depends on it.”
He claims that the first two years of life as essential in the process of brain development, since 80 percent of the brain cells a person will ever have are manufactured during that period.
“From the beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy to the 24th month of life, the human brain more than doubles in size, but only if it gets the “right” positive experiences. There is something the human brain needs in terms of contact with other humans for it to grow.”
During the first two years of life, the cells of the brain and their wiring are established, and the connections that are often used are reinforced, while the ones that are rarely used are closed down.
“The connections that are not used die off. It’s a use it or lose it situation. Cells that fire together wire together and do not die together. The brain does not continue to grow and grow and grow. It organizes, then disorganizes, then reorganizes. The disorganization of the brain — the massive death of billions of neurons and disconnection of synapses — is part of how the brain is growing as it’s reorganizing.”
The way our genes are encoded is affected by the hormones generated by the relationship between the infant and mother (or the primary caregiver). Schore adds:
“We know now for a fact that the endorphins regulate genes positively. We also know that cortisol, a stress hormone, also regulates genes. This is why emotionally enriched (positive) environments are key for infants.”
This means that positive emotions during the first two years of a child sets the tone for the rest of his life.
Furthermore, a study that followed 127 children from when they were just about to start school, to early adolescence, scanning their brains throughout, confirm these claims, discovering that motherly love can help children’s brains grow at twice the rate as neglected youngsters. According to the first author Dr. Joan Luby, Washington University child psychiatrist at St Louis Children’s Hospital:
“This study suggests there’s a sensitive period when the brain responds more to maternal support. The parent-child relationship during the preschool period is vital, even more important than when the child gets older.
We think that’s due to greater plasticity in the brain when kids are younger, meaning that the brain is affected more by experiences very early in life. That suggests it’s vital that kids receive support and nurturing during those early years.”
Additionally, Dr.Luby explains:
“Early maternal support affects the child’s brain development. We also know that providing support to parents can have a positive impact on other behavioral and adaptive outcomes in children. So we have a very logical reason to encourage policies that help parents become more supportive.”