The neuroscience of parental care why do parents love their children


Our sense of self and sense of self in relation to others comes from how we are treated as children by our parents. We learn who we are in relationships and we learn what intimacy is through the relationship with our parents. For example, if someone gets physically abused throughout childhood they may grow up and find themselves in abusive chaotic relationships because that’s the intimacy that was taught to them. If someone gets neglected throughout childhood maybe they grow up to find themselves attracted to emotionally unavailable people like their parents were emotionally unavailable. So people who are much older or married or otherwise off-limits and not really present in the relationship. Sometimes people who are neglected will develop personality features to capture the attention and respect they didn’t get when they were kids. One way this can manifest is they become academics and now they’re so smart and everybody’s got listen to them. So the point I want to make with these examples is how you’re treated as a child can influence who you’re attracted to, who you marry, your career, all sorts of things about your personality and how you relate to other people. So given that parental care is so important, what do we understand about the neuroscience of it? Well turns out there’s a small cluster of cells in a brain region called the hypothalamus there where if you lesion or kill these cells in birds, in fish, in mammals, we are mammals the animal won’t behave parentally much anymore Or if you activate or stimulate these cells the animal will behave parentally towards any baby you put in front of it. So that’s really interesting. What’s going on here? That’s what I figure out. I measure all sorts of properties of these cells. I figure out their shape. I figure out how they’re connected to other parts of the brain. I figure out what they hear when other cells talk to them. I figure out what they say when they talk to other cells. I measure all sorts of properties. And I do this in a rodent, a mammal, where the virgin’s are abusive. If you put a little baby in front of them they’re gonna ignore it or attack it, that’s neglect or physical abuse. Now the parents are great, they love babies. You put a baby in front of them, they’ll run up to it make sure it’s warm take it back to a nest they build for it, they’re wonderful. If you take a virgin, and you inject it full of hormones the same hormones that change in you when you become a parent, now all of a sudden they love babies. That’s because the hormones go up into the brain and they change the properties of cells that I measure. So if you want to understand why you love your children, if you want to understand why people abuse children you have to fund research like this. Ultimately we want to be able to change the brains of people who are wired up to abuse children more efficiently than we do now. And in order to do that we got to do some basic research. Thank you.

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