Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

By Elizabeth Norton

Cultures around the world have long assumed that women are hardwired to be mothers. But a new study suggests that caring for children awakens a parenting network in the brain—even turning on some of the same circuits in men as it does in women. The research implies that the neural underpinnings of the so-called maternal instinct aren’t unique to women, or activated solely by hormones, but can be developed by anyone who chooses to be a parent.

“This is the first study to look at the way dads’ brains change with child care experience,” says Kevin Pelphrey, a neuroscientist at Yale University who was not involved with the study. “What we thought of as a purely maternal circuit can also be turned on just by being a parent—which is neat, given the way our culture is changing with respect to shared responsibility and marriage equality.”

The findings come from an investigation of two types of households in Israel: traditional families consisting of a biological mother and father, in which the mother assumed most of the caregiving duties, though the fathers were very involved; and homosexual male couples, one of whom was the biological father, who’d had the child with the help of surrogate mothers. The two-father couples had taken the babies home shortly after birth and shared caregiving responsibilities equally. All participants in the study were first-time parents.

Researchers led by Ruth Feldman, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, visited with the families in their homes, videotaping each parent with the child and then the parents and children alone. The team, which included collaborators at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel, also took saliva samples from all parents before and after the videotaped sessions to measure oxytocin—a hormone that’s released at times of intimacy and affection and is widely considered the “trust hormone.” Within a week of the home visit, the participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning to determine how their brains reacted to the videotapes of themselves with their infants.

The mothers, their husbands, and the homosexual father-father couples all showed the activation of what the researchers term a “parenting network” that incorporated two linked but separate pathways in the brain. One circuit encompasses evolutionarily ancient structures such as the amygdala, insula, and nucleus accumbens, which handle strong emotions, attention, vigilance, and reward. The other pathway turns up in response to learning and experience and includes parts of the prefrontal cortex and an area called the superior temporal sulcus.

In the mothers, activation was stronger in the amygdala-centered network, whereas the heterosexual fathers showed more activity in the network that’s more experience-dependent. At first glance, Feldman says, the finding would seem to suggest that mothers are more wired up to nurture, protect, and possibly worry about their children. The fathers, in contrast, might have to develop these traits through tending, communicating, and learning from their babies what various sounds mean and what the child needs.

“It’s as if the father’s amygdala can shut off when there’s a woman around,” Feldman observes. It could be assumed, she says, that this circuitry is activated only by the rush of hormones during conception, pregnancy, and childbirth.

But the brains of the homosexual couples, in which each partner was a primary caregiver, told a different story. All of these men showed activity that mirrored that of the mothers, with much higher activation in the amygdala-based network, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This finding argues strongly that the experience of hands-on parenting, with no female mother anywhere in the picture, can configure a caregiver’s brain in the same way that pregnancy and childbirth do, Feldman says.

She adds that in the heterosexual fathers, the activation of the amygdala-based network was proportional to the amount of time they spent with the baby, though the activity wasn’t as high as in the mothers or in the two-father couples.

Feldman does not believe that the brain activity of the primary-caregiving fathers differed because they were gay. Previous imaging studies, she notes, show no difference in brain activation when homosexual and heterosexual participants viewed pictures of their loved ones.

Future studies, Pelphrey says, might focus more closely on this question. “But it’s clear that we’re all born with the circuitry to help us be sensitive caregivers, and the network can be turned up through parenting.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2014/05/parenting-rewires-male-brain

Advertisements

baby

Cry-it-out is a sleep training method that advocates letting your baby cry (or the more innocuous-sounding “self-soothe”) for varying periods of time before offering comfort. The goal is to get your baby to learn how to fall asleep on her own, so you, too, can rest.

Central to it all is stress and sanity: the baby’s, yours and that of everyone with earshot.

The method is the subject of intense debate, passionate opinions and conflicting research findings.

A few weeks ago, the journal Developmental Psychology published a study supporting the notion that a majority of infants over the age of 6 months may best be left to self-soothe and fall back to sleep on their own.

Noting that sleep deprivation can exacerbate maternal depression, Temple University researcher and professor Marsha Weinraub concluded: “Because the mothers in our study described infants with many awakenings per week as creating problems for themselves and other family members, parents might be encouraged to establish more nuanced and carefully targeted routines to help babies with self-soothing and to seek occasional respite.”

There is broad agreement that parents’ well-being is critical to infants’ health and development. Weintraub suggested that the link between infant awakenings and maternal depression would benefit from further research.

Adequate sleep is, of course, key to parents’ stress levels. Loss of sleep has been associated with a dramatically higher risk of depression in mothers and marital problems.

It is how well (or not) the baby fares in the cry-it-out scenario that muddies the waters.

On the pro sleep-training side, an Australian study published in September followed 326 children with parent-reported sleep problems at 7 months. Half the babies were placed in a sleep-training group and the other half in a control group that did not use sleep training.

Five years later, researchers followed up with the now-6-year-old participants and their parents.

The children in the two groups showed very little to no significant differences in terms of emotional health, behavior or sleep problems. Mothers’ stress or depression levels were roughly the same, as were the parent-child bonds in both groups.

The researchers found no harm in permitting children to cry for limited periods of time while they learned to sleep on their own.

Directly contradicting this study is research conducted at the University of North Texas that was published in the Early Human Development journal last year. Observing 25 infants aged 4 to 10 months in a five-day inpatient sleep training program, researchers monitored levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the babies, who were left to cry themselves to sleep without being soothed.

The scientists measured how long the infants cried each night before they fell asleep. The mothers sat in the next room and listened to their children cry but were not permitted to go in and soothe their babies.

By the third night, the babies were crying for a shorter period of time and falling asleep faster. However, the cortisol levels measured in their saliva remained high, indicating that the infants were just as “stressed” as if they had remained crying. So while the infants’ internal physiological distress levels had not changed, their outward displays of that stress were extinguished by sleep training.

In the mothers, on the other hand, the stress hormone levels fell as the babies appeared — at least outwardly — to settle down and sleep.

The study did not clarify whether the babies’ stress levels lowered as their sleep patterns settle over time. The researchers are now studying this issue, among others, in a longer follow-up.

As with most things in life, when it comes to babies and the science of sleep, the only certainty is that there is no certainty. Those of us on the roller coaster of modern parenting are the first to attest to the fact that perfection simply does not exist, especially when you’re bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived at 4:15 a.m., with a full workday looming.

Some researchers suggest that parents may gain clarity by working backward from a longer-term goal.

Darcia Narvaez, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, studies moral cognition and development. Her research examines how early life experience may influence brain development, moral functioning and character in children and adults.

Narvaez advocates a more responsive style of parenting that mirrors nurturing ancestral practices, including breastfeeding, frequent touch, soothing babies in distress, outdoor play and a wider community of caregivers.

According to Narvaez, research shows that responsive parenting can help develop infants’ self-regulation and may influence conscience, impulse control, empathy, resilience and other character-related attributes.

Narvaez’s list is strikingly similar to a set of character traits discussed by journalist Paul Tough in his book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.”

In the book, Tough examines the skills and traits that lead to success and ultimately advances the hypothesis that character attributes may be more crucial than cognitive skills like IQ and intelligence.

“(I)n the past decade, and especially in the past few years,” writes Tough, “a disparate congregation of economists, educators, psychologists, and neuroscientists have begun to produce evidence that … (w)hat matters most in a child’s development … is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years.

“What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence.”

Can responsive parenting in a child’s first year lay the groundwork for better regulation of social and behavioral responses and perhaps even greater life success? Seems like a heavy burden. And no one knows for sure — not even the dueling Upper West Side mothers.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/24/health/child-sleep-debate-enayati/index.html?hpt=he_c1

 

Science is painting a dramatic picture of how childhood neglect damages developing brains, so stunting them that neglect might be likened to physically violent abuse.

The latest addition to this research narrative comes from a study of mice placed in isolation early in their lives, an experiment that, on its surface, might seem redundant: After all, we already know that neglect is bad for humans, much less mice.

But they key to the study is in the details. The researchers found striking abnormalities in tissues that transmit electrical messages across the brain, suggesting a specific mechanism for some of the dysfunctions seen in neglected human children.

“This is very strong evidence that changes in myelin cause some of the behavioral problems caused by isolation,” said neurologist Gabriel Corfas of Harvard Medical School, a co-author of the new study, released Sept. 13 in Science.

 

Corfas and his team, led by fellow Harvard Med neuroscientist Manabu Makinodan, put 21-day-old mice in isolation for two weeks, then returned them to their colonies. When the mice reached adolescence, the researchers compared their brains and behavior to mice who hadn’t been isolated.

The isolated mice were antisocial, with striking deficits in memory. Their myelin, a cell layer that forms around neuronal networks like insulation around wires, was unusually thin, especially in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region central to cognition and personality.

Similar patterns of behavior have been seen, again and again, in children raised in orphanages or neglected by parents, as have changes to a variety of brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex. The myelin deficiencies identified by Corfas and Makinodan may underlie these defects.

 

“This is incredibly important data, because it gives us the neural mechanisms associated with the deleterious changes in the brain” that arise from neglect, said Nathan Fox, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Maryland.

Fox was not involved in the new study, but is part of a research group working on a long-term study of childhood neglect that is scientifically striking and poignantly tragic. Led by Harvard Medical School pediatricians Charles Nelson and Margaret Sheridan, the project has tracked for the last 12 years children who started their lives in an orphanage in Bucharest, Romania, a country infamous for the spartan, impersonal conditions of its orphanages.

Among children who spent their first two years in the orphanage, the researchers observed high levels developmental problems, cognitive deficits, mental illness, and significant reductions in brain size. When the researchers measured the sheer amount of electrical activity generated by the brains of children who’d been isolated as toddlers, “it was like you’d had a rheostat, a dimmer, and dimmed down the amount of energy in these institutionalized children,” said Fox.

These problems persisted even when toddlers were later adopted, suggesting a crucial importance for those early years in setting a life’s neurological trajectory. “There’s a sensitive period for which, if a child is taken out of an institution, the effects appear to be remediated, and after which remediation is very, very difficult,” Fox said. The same pattern was observed in Corfas and Makinodan’s mice.

One phenomenon not studied in the mice, but regularly found in people neglected as children, are problems with stress: mood disorders, anxiety, and general dysfunction in a body’s stress responses.

Those mechanisms have been studied in another animal, the rhesus monkey. While deprivation studies on non-human primates — and in particular chimpanzees — are controversial, the results from the monkey studies have been instructive.

Early-life isolation sets off a flood of hormones that permanently warp their responses to stress, leaving them anxious and prone to violent swings in mood.

Isolation is so damaging because humans, especially as infants, literally depend on social stimulation to shape their minds, said psychologist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago.

“Human social processes were once thought to have been incidental to learning and cognition,” Cacioppo wrote in an e-mail. “However, we now think that the complexities and demands of social species have contributed to the evolution of the brain and nervous system and to various aspects of cognition.”

Corfas and Makinodan’s team linked specific genetic changes to the abnormalities in their mice, and hope they might someday inform the development of drugs that can help reverse isolation’s effects.

A more immediate implication of the research is social. As evidence of neglect’s severe, long-term consequences accumulates, it could shape the way people think not just of orphanages, but policy matters like maternity and paternity leave, or the work requirements of single parents on welfare.

“What this work certainly says is that the first years of life are crucially important for brain architecture,” Fox said. “Infants and young children have to grow up in an environment of social relationships, and experiencing those is critical for healthy cognitive, social and psychological development. As a society, we should be figuring out how to encourage all that to happen.”

Thanks to Kebmobee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/09/neuroscience-of-neglect/

 

The following is a break down of some seriously bad parenting at the hands of 19-year-old teen mom Catalina Clouser from Phoenix, Arizona.

On Friday night Clouser and her boyfriend had been smoking a little weed at a public park. After this they decided to head to a store and buy some beer with Catalina’s baby in the car. Hey boyfriend was pulled over and popped for DUI. Being upset over that whole situation, Clouser decided to take herself and her child to a friend’s house where she, “admittedly smoked one or two additional bowls of marijuana.”

After getting stoned Clouser thought it would be a good idea to head on home with her infant son asleep in the car seat. It wasn’t until she got home that she became aware that her son was missing. According to Phoenix Police officer James Holmes:

“It appears the suspect put the baby on the roof of the car and drove off, forgetting he was still on the roof.”

Freaked out, Clouser started dialing up friends frantically attempting to retrace her steps trying to figure out the location of her son. Once she pieced together what had happened officers were already on the scene. Holmes added:

“The officers did find that the car seat was damaged. There were scrapes on the car seat, obviously from a fall. We’re thinking that based on her possible impairment, she just didn’t realize that she had placed that baby at one o’clock in the morning on top of the car when she took off.”

Both Holmes and local station KTVK have reported that the 5-week-old infant is, “perfectly OK,” and that he has been placed in the care of Arizona Child Protective Services.

Catalina Clouser was arrested and has been charged with aggravated DUI and child abuse.

http://starcasm.net/archives/158865