Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Power of Infants Over Their Environment

When I took a freshman level class in lifespan psychology back in the 1980s, infants were regarded as little more than lumps of clay soaking in their environment. At the time, there was little serious understanding of how well infants shape their environment to ensure survival. The available research hadn't made its way into such basic college textbooks.

In recent years, as more and better research has been conducted, it has become obvious that infants shape their surroundings as much or more as they are shaped by them. This serves obvious survival needs, as until recently most first-time mothers were pretty young and if bonding didn't occur quickly, survival was not assured.

In The Neuroscience of Human Relationships, Louis Cozolino offers the following passage:
Newborns were once thought of as passive recipients of external stimulation. But ask any mother of a healthy baby, and she will tell you there's no such thing as a passive newborn. In fact, infants are now regarded as competent participants in relationships. When we look more carefully at infants, we begin to realize just how well infants communicate their needs and get them met. In fact, newborns influence and socialize the behaviors of their caretakers as much as they are socialized (Bateson, 1972; Rheingold, 1969). Mother and infant continually adjusts to each other's sounds, gestures, movements, and emotions in a lyrical duet (Trevarthen, 1993). As they bond, both of their brains are shaped and reshaped in response to one another (Hofer, 1984).
For anyone with kids, there is probably nothing new in any of this. Aside from how deeply the connection runs (shaping and reshaping each other's brains), most mothers understand how well their infant children make sure they get their own needs met.

This book is essentially about the neuroscience of attachment, one of the "hot" fields in neuroscience as well as therapeutic interventions. If you are curious about how attachment works in general, of with your own kids, I can highly recommend this book.

1 comment:

LadyMD said...

Babies. Children. Very beautiful. :)