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Nature, nurture and development

Posted on June 28, 2013 at 5:49 AM Comments comments (99)
Nature, nurture and development: From evangelism through science toward policy and practice by Michael Rutter. Article available here. 

This article is a review of the scientific exploration of the nurture-nature debate in relation to psychopathology. Michael Rutter explores both the misconceptions and false claims on genetic, psychosocial and developmental research. 

The highest environmental risks related to the development of psychopathology are: 
- scapegoating of a child and exposure to consistent conflict
- a lack of individualised personal caregiving [institutional upbringing]
- the absence of play and conversation with a carer
- a negative social group that fosters maladaptive behaviour

The risk and protective factors emerge in the context of family, peer group, school and the wider social community. [Rutter, 2oo2, p. 8]

Mind mindedness

Posted on January 28, 2013 at 5:11 PM Comments comments (0)

"New research shows that reading a baby's mind aids its development. Claudia Hammond reports on a new technique which helps mothers connect with their infants. Known as mind mindedness this method cuts across social groups and is being used successfully to help women with serious mental illness bond with their babies.And should people with mental illness be told the long term effects of their drugs? One listener thinks this is a message that should be handled with care. Plus, how a poem written twenty years ago by a twelve year old dyslexic boy has inspired a new art science collaboration"

Learning begins before birth

Posted on November 29, 2012 at 8:42 AM Comments comments (0)

About the speaker 
"To what extent the conditions we encounter before birth influence our individual characteristics? It‘s the question at the center of fetal origins, a relatively new field of research that measures how the effects of influences outside the womb during pregnancy can shape the physical, mental and even emotional well-being of the developing baby for the rest of its life.

Science writer Annie Murphy Paul calls it a gray zone between nature and nurture in her book Origins, a history and study of this emerging field structured around a personal narrative. Paul was pregnant with her second child at the time. What she finds suggests a far more dynamic nature between mother and fetus than typically acknowledged, and opens up the possibility that the time before birth is as crucial to human development as early childhood."

In the nine months before birth a baby learns answers to critical questions about the environment it will be born into: Am I born into a world of plenty or hunger? Am I born into safety or danger? 

Pre-natal starvation and stress influence the ways our bodies and brains develop after birth. 

For example, the so-called Dutch Hunger Winter babies, babies whose mothers had starved during pregnancy under the NAZI siege, decades later had more obesity, more diabetes and more heart conditions compared to individuals who gestated under normal conditions. 

Their pre-natal experiences had changed their biological profile. The explanation is that the fetuses tailor their physiology and metabolism in anticipation of the kind of world they will encounter beyond the womb. The basis of this prediction is what the mother eats, which becomes an unspoken narrative, a story about abundance or starvation. A child with very little energy requirements will survive a time of scarcity better, so the fetus adapts to have a slower metabolic profile. The problem arises when the mother's unspoken narrative is unreliable. Bodies that are built to survive on very little calories were born into a post-war world of plenty and were ill equipped to deal with surplus which requires a higher metabolic rate. Hence the high incidents of obesity and type II diabetes. 

Another example. Babies of a group of mothers who were present at the 9/11 disaster and developed PTSD as a result, were themselves predisposed to this condition. Researchers found a biological marker linked to PTSD. In a very dangerous environment, what looks like pathology to us - hyper-vigilance, a quick-trigger response to danger, are adaptive. In a sense the mothers stress profile is indirectly informing and warning their unborn babies that it's a dangerous world out there and the fetus "prepares" himself to surviving in this world.