Friday, December 21st, 2012
New research is finding that oxytocin, the hormone that brings about feelings of love, connection, and belonging in relationships, may help fathers bond better with their children. More from Time.com:
“In a study published in Biological Psychiatry, 35 fathers played with their five month old daughters, once after being given a nasal spray containing either oxytocin and again after being given a placebo. Each time, they were instructed to engage in a task called the “still face” paradigm, which produces a small, heart-tugging drama. Researchers measured oxytocin levels in both the dads and their babies before and after the exercise.
First, the father smiles and plays with the baby, who sits in an infant seat facing him. Then he keeps his face blank and expressionless, refusing to respond as the infant makes increasingly worried attempts to re-engage him. After a few minutes of watching but ignoring the child’s distress, the dad resumes a more loving expression and reassures baby that all is well.
After receiving oxytocin, the fathers were generally more responsive to their little girls— almost certainly having a harder time keeping their faces blank during the “still face” and consequently responding far more quickly when instructed to re-engage. Under the influence of the hormone, the dads made more eye contact, provided more touch, had more mirroring and reciprocal interactions and indulged in more baby talk than after receiving placebo.
Their babies also tended to respond more to their dads who had received the oxytocin sprays—with increased smiles, laughter, mirroring and play behavior—compared to their behavior when their dads were receiving the placebo. Their own oxytocin rose in near perfect sync with the elevation of the hormone occurring in their fathers.”
Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
A parent’s demonstration of love, shown through nurturing behavior and comforting children at times of stress, actually has an impact on brain development, a new study finds. CNN.com’s medical blog reports on the research, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Here’s how the study was done. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recruited 92 children between the ages of 3 and 6. Rather than asking parents about how they treated their children, the researchers brought the kids and parents into a lab and videotaped them as the parents, almost always mothers, tried to help their children cope with a mildly stressful task that was designed to approximate the stress of daily parenting.
Ratings of parental ability to nurture their children were done by study personnel who watched the videos while knowing nothing about either children or parents. Several years later, on average, the children had the size of a brain area called the hippocampus measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). After taking into account a whole range of factors that can affect hippocampal size, the researchers found that children with especially nurturing, caring mothers, based on their behavior during the laboratory stressor, had significantly larger hippocampi (plural of hippocampus – you’ve got one on each side of the brain) than kids with mothers who were average or poor nurturers.
Why is this finding important? Because more than any place else in the brain, when it comes to the hippocampus, size matters. Other things being equal, having small hippocampi increases your risk for all sorts of troubles, from depression and post traumatic stress disorder to Alzheimer’s disease. If you’ve got depression, having small hippocampi predicts that you won’t respond as well to antidepressants as well as depressed people with larger hippocampi to antidepressants.
Image: Boy cuddling with his mother, via Shutterstock.
Friday, February 3rd, 2012
ΩUnder the inspiring headline “Nicer Moms Have Smarter Kids,” CafeMom.com reports on a new research study that finds showing affection to children actually helps develop the part of their brain that is involved with stress, learning, and memory:
This research came from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. It says that school-age children whose mothers, fathers, and caretakers “nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus,” which is the part of the brain that aids in learning, memory, and your response to stress.
The author of the study, Joan L. Luby, M.D., says it best:
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.
Image: Mother holding baby, via Shutterstock.