Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Mom’s Love Good for Child’s Brain
School-age children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus, a key structure important to learning, memory and response to stress.
The new research, by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is the first to show that changes in this critical region of children’s brain anatomy are linked to a mother’s nurturing.
Their research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.
“This study validates something that seems to be intuitive, which is just how important nurturing parents are to creating adaptive human beings,” says lead author Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry. “I think the public health implications suggest that we should pay more attention to parents’ nurturing, and we should do what we can as a society to foster these skills because clearly nurturing has a very, very big impact on later development.”
The brain-imaging study involved children ages 7 to 10 who had participated in an earlier study of preschool depression that Luby and her colleagues began about a decade ago. That study involved children, ages 3 to 6, who had symptoms of depression, other psychiatric disorders or were mentally healthy with no known psychiatric problems.
As part of the initial study, the children were closely observed and videotaped interacting with a parent, almost always a mother, as the parent was completing a required task, and the child was asked to wait to open an attractive gift.
How much or how little the parent was able to support and nurture the child in this stressful circumstance — which was designed to approximate the stresses of daily parenting — was evaluated by raters who knew nothing about the child’s health or the parent’s temperament.