October 30, 2012

Emotional care or neglect of young children decisive for brain size, intelligence

An image says more than a thousand words. And in this case the image is a brain scan... or rather two side by side:

Both brains belong to 3-years-old children

... the child with the shrunken brain was neglected and abused by its mother, and the child with the larger and more fully developed brain was raised in a loving, supportive home and was looked after by its mother...

This is not just about IQ or head size, which may vary at least largely because of this type of environmental causes, but about everything in life, including emotional and social intelligence and the general ability to carry on with a normal, well integrated life (or become human waste). 

The first years of life are critical for all our development and parental love, very specially that of our mothers, is probably more important than almost anything else.

Source: Medical Daily.


  1. "The first years of life are critical for all our development and parental love, very specially that of our mothers, is probably more important than almost anything else."

    I haven't seen anything to convince me that the bond with mother is more important.

    While this doesn't directly address the question, kids from homes of single fathers tend to be better adapted. Actual time with fathers has already been shown to effect the iq and emotional development of children. Lastly, a fathers' biochemistry changes after his child's birth, giving an immediate impetus for change.

    The above shows how important fatherhood is to humanity, but it doesn't compare the importance of fatherhood to motherhood. Still, I think that fatherhood is just as important as motherhood, but that it tends to be undervalued in society.

    1. The role of the mothers is definitely key in the first years of life, if nothing else because fathers and grannies don't breastfeed us. Never mind all the smells and hearbeat imprinting from the pregnancy months. It's so obvious that I feel stupid even debating it.

      Of course in the end it's the overall environment but for babies that overall environment means normally "mum" (plus mum's acquaintances).

      "... kids from homes of single fathers tend to be better adapted".

      No idea what you mean by "better adapted". It's almost certain that fatherly care is positive and that, specially in heavily patriarchal societies where they embody the social roles, they may be crucial in teaching kids of later ages (above 6 or 8 or even 10) to behave in society, worker skills, etc. If that's what you mean by "better adapted" you may be right. But most dads don't nor can play the mother's role of the first key years. I'd dare propose that, in general, we men are less interested in babies than women are and that our interest on kids grows as these acquire greater intellectual and physical abilities we can best interact with - but this may be cultural or even my personal bias.

      But it's obvious that it will be the whole adult environment (and also other children, specially older ones), who will shape the overall early experience of the child. And there no doubt the father, if present, plays a major role.

    2. Recent research argues that a child needs to bond with one adult, but it doesn't necessariyl matter much who.

      But, there is also a considerable literature to suggest that the presence of a genetically unrelated adult in a household with a child (e.g. a stepparent or parent's adult significant other) is one of the strongest risk factors for abuse and neglect for a child.

      In the discussion of single fathers v. single mothers, one of the key issues (aside from individualized unfitness such as one parent having a drug problem) is how much distinctions are due to gender and how much distinctions are due to single fathers, on average, being better off economically than single mothers. Poverty is strong corrolated with child abuse and neglect and, in general, is a strong negative environmental influence particularly in countries such as the U.S. with a very weak social safety net that permits particular dire conditions of poverty to exist.

  2. Ah, scientific proof. This has pretty well been suspected from observation: where orphans lag behind those raised by families. http://as-psychology.pbworks.com/w/page/9174253/DeprivationPrivation
    Lots of studies in developmental psychology/medical literature, and we moms who adopted kids from orphanages (overseas) were warned that our kids would act and function younger than their actual birth date.

    1. I still think that this early damage can be compensated to some extent but the first years of life are no doubt crucial, so probably not wholly.

  3. I wish they showed the sizes of the parent's brains too, as unless you control for that, the study is meaningless...

    So for instance, it may be that parents with smaller brains are more likely to neglect and abuse their children?!

    1. You are right in the fact that more info is needed. Sadly the Medical Daily did not provide a reference study but the text seems to imply that these were not the only children researched.

      Also if you make a search for papers on neglect and brain size you'll find other examples:

      Perry 2002: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1016557824657

      Glaser 2000: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1469-7610.00551/abstract


      In fact this is not really new knowledge and evidence piles up if you look for it for windows of maturation in human brain, all of them in early childhood, importance of nutrition and emotional care and also for lack of evidence in regards to intelligence (an associated trait) being essentially genetic, as many happily claim:




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