Saturday, March 16, 2013

Psychobiological Roots of Early Attachment

This is an article by Developmental Psychologist Myron Hofer of Colombia University who aims to truly understand attachment and psychological development. He begins the article by discussing the importance of developmental psychology and attachment theory to help better understand the deep constructs of our minds. He uses rats as models to help illustrate these three questions he believes need more clarification:

1.     What creates attachment bond?
It always begins in utero, when the fetus is exposed to scents and sounds. Then, developmentally, infants have a rapid learning capacity to associate scents with familiarity (their mother). They tested this with baby rats, by presenting different odors to them. The odor they brushed on them was the same as shavings in their experiment chamber, and surprisingly quickly they came to prefer that scent than that of their mother, since it was exposed to them more.
2.     Why is early maternal separation stressful?
What we saw in the “Strange Situation:” a baby is separated from their mother and despair by her absence. This is known as the “biphasic protest-despair response.” The level of separation determines the existence of the strength of the maternal bond. With the rats, he was surprised to find that they were as disturbed by separation as monkey and human babies.  They were able to conclude that warmth provided by the mother maintained the baby rat’s activity level, and her milk maintained its heart rate. Clearly, separation from the mother deprived the infant of these crucial developmental needs. This shows that subtle interaction between mother and child becomes very important: imitation, play, and positive reciprocation. The simple things like smell, touch, and warmth are still some of the most important aspects of child development.
3.     How can early relationships have lasting effects?
Hofer and his team investigated early termination in mother/child relationships: they separated rats from their mothers in half the amount of time that nature intended. They survived but became malnourished. 80% of adolescent rats developed ulcers, and were larger than those that developed in adults: in normal circumstances, rats this age never developed ulcers. This proved that if there is early withdrawal of maternal regulators, babies would be affected by numerous psychological phenomenon that altered their development, and would later influence and complicate their adulthood.  Depravity of attachment created health problems. 

You can read the article here.

--Betsy Peterschmidt

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