As the X-ray images of the brains of two 3-year old children showed, the brain of the loved child was twice as big as the brain of the neglected one.
The child whose brain is on the left of the picture had a caregiver who developed a positive relationship with it, full of love, care, and respect. On the other hand, the child whose brain appears on the right was ignored, neglected, and abused.
The Telegraph published an article in 2012, saying that the kid on the right will become a less intelligent adult, less able to empathize with others, more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime, and might even develop mental and other serious health problems.
At this time, neurologists were starting to understand the way in which the interaction between the baby and the mother affected the growth of its brain.
Allan Schore, UCLA psychiatry professor, and one of the leading neurologists in this field claims that the growth of the brain of the baby literally requires positive interaction between mother and infant, as it affects the development of cerebral circuits depends.
He claims that the first two years of life as essential in the process of brain development, since 80 percent of the brain cells a person will ever have are manufactured during that period.
Schore says that from the beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy to the 24th month of life, if it gets the proper positive experiences, the human brain more than doubles in size.
During the first two years of life, the cells of the brain and their wiring are established, and the connections that are often used are reinforced, while the ones that are rarely used are closed down.
He explains that the unused connections die off. Cells that fire together wire together and do not die together. The brain does not go on growing, but it organizes, then disorganizes, then reorganizes, and the massive death of billions of neurons and disconnection of synapses is a part of the growth process of the brain.
The way our genes are encoded is affected by the hormones generated by the relationship between the infant and mother (or the primary caregiver). Schore adds that since endorphins regulate genes positively, just like cortisol, a stress hormone, emotionally enriched (positive) environments are key for infants.
This means that positive emotions during the first two years of a child set the tone for the rest of his life.
Furthermore, a study that followed 127 children from when they were just about to start school, to early adolescence, scanning their brains throughout, confirm these claims, discovering that motherly love can help children’s brains grow at twice the rate as neglected youngsters.
According to the first author Dr. Joan Luby, Washington University child psychiatrist at St Louis Children’s Hospital, says that the findings of the study show that there’s a sensitive period when the brain responds more to maternal support.
The parent-child relationship during the preschool period is essential, even more important than when the child gets older. This is believed to be caused by the greater plasticity in the brain when children are younger, as the brain is affected more by experiences very early in life. Therefore, it is essential for children to receive support and nurturing during those early years.
Early maternal support affects the brain development of the child, so they encourage policies that help parents become more supportive.