Mother love is important: 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.
As part of a study, the children were closely observed and videotaped interacting with a parent, almost always a mother, under challenging conditions. 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.
Past animal studies have indicated that a nurturing mother can influence brain development, and many studies in human children have identified improvements in school performance and healthier development in children raised in a nurturing environment.
Psychiatrist Joan L. Luby says, "Studies in rats have shown that maternal nurturance, specifically in the form of licking, produces changes in genes that then produce changes in receptors that increase the size of the hippocampus. That phenomenon has been replicated in primates, but it hasn’t really been clear whether the same thing happens in humans. Our study suggests a clear link between nurturing and the size of the hippocampus.
"This study validates something that seems to be intuitive, which is just how important nurturing parents are to creating adaptive human beings. Having a hippocampus that’s almost 10% larger just provides concrete evidence of nurturing's powerful effect."
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