The neurobiology of Attachment

Reflected in the architecture of each of our brains is the coming together of our evolutionary history, the generations preceding our birth and our unique relationship with our parents(eisenberg 1995). Hundreds of studies have demonstrated the ways in which early experience is correlated with physical and emotional health later in life. Research in molecular biology offers us a ground-breaking view into the underlying mechanism of the effects of early experience on genetic expression, that is, how early experience triggers gene expression to guide our brains onto particular experience triggers gene expression to guide our brains onto particular adaptational trajectories. In contrast to the correlations found in other fields of study this new work explores causal biological links between maternal behaviour and the building of the brains of children.

When we think about have an internalized mother, our thoughts usually stray to images of a kind smile, a warm hug, feeling safe, and being loved. Depending on the culture, you may remember your mom serving thanksgiving dinner, strutting tomato sauce, of frying chicken, those of us who are less fortunate may have images of enraged behaviour. Endless criticism. Or a mother passed out on the couch after long day of drinking. These conscious autobiographical memories are but one layer of an internalised mother. Another level, deeper and just as meaningful, is how these early experiences shaped the neurobiological processes of our brains.

We have learned a great deal by exploring how the behaviour of mama rats influences the brains of their pups. The conversation of structures and functions during evolution provides us with a good animal model of the effects of maternal behaviour on the brain. Although this research has yet to be done with humans, the behavioural and neurobiological parallels between rats and humans are striking, making rats very helpful in understanding the interpersonal aspects of neurobiology. We also explore network of the human brain that rely on similar shaping during early experience, as well as some other ways in which epigenetic factors may impact everything from the timing of menopause to human longevity.