Monday, November 12, 2012

Of Mice and Men :)

In essence, rats who receive more maternal attention have brains that are more robust, resilient, and nurturing of others. They are able to learn faster and maintain memories longer. They are less reactive to stress and are thus able to use their abilities to learn at higher levels of arousal and across more difficult situations. They will also suffer less from the damaging effects of cortisol by down-regulating it sooner after a stress response. and finally, females growing up with more attentive mothers pass these positive features on to their children.

In an exciting twist, it has been found that biological interventions and enriched social and physical environments can reverse the effects of low levels of maternal attention and early deprivation on both HPA activation and behavior (Bredy et al. 2004; Francis et al. 2002; Hood, Dreschel & Granger 2003; Szyf et al. 2005; Weaver et al. 2005). Unfortunately chronic stress or trauma in adolescence and adulthood can also reverse the positive effects of higher levels of attention earlier in life, shaping a brain that resembles one that was deprived of early maternal attention (Ladd, Thrivikraman, Hout & Plotsky, et al. 2005). These studies all support the notion that our brains are capable of continual adaptation in both positive and negative directions and that successful psychotherapy, one that establishes a nurturing relationship, may well be capable of triggering genetic expression in ways that can decrease stress, improve learning, and establish a bridge to new and healthier relationships.
Keep in mind that the amount of attention that a mother rat shows her pups exists in a broad adaptational context. Highly stressed mothers demonstrate lower rates of licking and grooming, which prepare her pup's brains for living in a stressful environment. In other words, under adverse conditions, maternal behavior decreases, which programs her offspring for enhanced reactivity to stress. This likely increases the probability of survival while simultaneously elevating the risk of physical and emotional pathology later in life (Diorio & Meaney, 2007). --- pp. 218-223, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy

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