Synchronous caregiving from birth to adulthood tunes humans’
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Show your baby your love, and you'll get a kinder, gentler adult child as your reward, a new study suggests. The latest results show that the maternal contact received by a newborn had a measurable impact on social brain functioning decades later, and the ability to empathize and relate to others.

The study included three categories of babies: full-term healthy infants who could easily have contact with their moms; preemies who were incubated and for at least a couple of weeks could not have physical contact with their mothers; and more stable preemies whose moms committed to holding them, skin-to-skin, for at least an hour a day for at least 14 consecutive days.

Researchers believed that proximity to the mother's body would be beneficial for the children for a variety of reasons, for the attachment, for the self-regulation, just like any other mammalian young that needs all the provisions that are in the mother's body and physical proximity.

The researchers periodically checked in with the children and their families and assessed their interactions, their "mother-child social synchrony," starting with nonverbal cues and responses early on. Over time, mothers and children built more complex abilities to see the other person's side and allowing the person to have their opinion.

In early adulthood, they assessed the grown children's brains. The areas of the brain that were specifically sensitized were the amygdala and the insula. The scientist described the amygdala as a center of non-conscious identification of emotions, and the insula as an area where you integrate signals from your own body with signals from another person's emotional state.

Findings demonstrate the centrality of synchronous caregiving, by which infants practice the detection and sharing of others’ affective states, for tuning the human social brain, particularly in regions implicated in salience detection, interoception, and mentalization that underpin affect sharing and human attachment.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences