Brain Scans Show The Real Impact Love Has On A Child’s Brain

You comfort them over a skinned knee in the playground, and coax them to sleep with a soothing lullaby. But being a nurturing mother is not just about emotional care – it pays dividends by determining the size of your child’s brain, scientists say.

Both of these images are brain scans of a two three-year-old children, but the brain on the left is considerably larger, has fewer spots and less dark areas, compared to the one on the right.

According to neurologists this sizeable difference has one primary cause – the way each child was treated by their mothers.


Shocking: According to neurologists the sizeable difference between these two brains has one primary cause – the way were treated by their mothers

But the child with the shrunken brain was the victim of severe neglect and abuse.

Babies’ brains grow and develop as they interact with their environment and learn how to function within it.

When babies’ cries bring food or comfort, they are strengthening the neuronal pathways that help them learn how to get their needs met, both physically and emotionally. But babies who do not get responses to their cries, and babies whose cries are met with abuse, learn different lessons.

The neuronal pathways that are developed and strengthened under negative conditions prepare children to cope in that negative environment, and their ability to respond to nurturing and kindness may be impaired.

According to research reported by the newspaper, the brain on the right in the image above worryingly lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left.

The consequences of these deficits are pronounced – the child on the left with the larger brain will be more intelligent and more likely to develop the social ability to empathise with others.

This type of severe, global neglect can have devastating consequences. The extreme lack of stimulationmay result in fewer neuronal pathways available for learning.

The lack of opportunity to form an attachment with a nurturing caregiver during infancy may mean that some of these children will always have difficulties forming meaningful relationships with others. But studies have also found that time played a factor–children who were adopted as young infants have shown more recovery than children who were adopted as toddlers.

But in contrast, the child with the shrunken brain will be more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crimes, much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on state benefits.

The child is also more likely to develop mental and other serious health problems.

Some of the specific long-term effects of abuse and neglect on the developing brain can include:

  • Diminished growth in the left hemisphere, which may increase the risk for depression
  • Irritability in the limbic system, setting the stage for the emergence of panic disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Smaller growth in the hippocampus and limbic abnormalities, which can increase the risk for dissociative disorders and memory impairments
  • Impairment in the connection between the two brain hemispheres, which has been linked to symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, told The Sunday Telegraph that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, it can have a fundamental impact on development.

He pointed out that the genes for several aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot function.

And sadly there is a chance they may never develop and come into existence.

These has concerning implications for neglected children that are taken into care past the age of two.

It also seems that the more severe the mother’s neglect, the more pronounced the damage can be.

The images also have worrying consequences for the childhood neglect cycle – often parents who, because their parents neglected them, do not have fully developed brains, neglect their own children in a similar way.

But research in the U.S. has shown the cycle can be successfully broken if early intervention is staged and families are supported.

The study correlates with research released earlier this year that found that children who are given love and affection from their mothers early in life are smarter with a better ability to learn.

The experiences of infancy and early childhood provide the organizing framework for the expression of children’s intelligence, emotions, and personalities.

When those experiences are primarily negative, children may develop emotional, behavioral, and learning problems that persist throughout their lifetime, especially in the absence of targeted interventions.

The study by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found school-aged children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus, a key structure important to learning, memory and response to stress.

The research was the first to show that changes in this critical region of children’s brain anatomy are linked to a mother’s nurturing, reports.

The research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Lead author Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry, said the study reinforces how important nurturing parents are to a child’s development.


6 thoughts on “Brain Scans Show The Real Impact Love Has On A Child’s Brain

  1. I knew nurturing was important but having a visual represantion like that is amazing, not to say shocking.

  2. I would like to see the next level of this study; does it matter ‘more’ if you are neglected by your own mother by being left in emotionally sterilized daycare environments for years on end or just being neglected straight up in your own home.

    I’m sick to death of listening to some of these college educated women (and men) I work with who refer to their 1 or 2-year olds daycare as ‘school’. No it isn’t Stupid, you’re just satisfying a selfish adult desire to have ‘stuff’ instead of raising your own creations! And this situation is so bad now that we actually have to listen to scientists tell us the ‘truth of it all’ instead of REAL MOTHERS who know!

  3. The one on the right looks similar to a schizophrenic brain, even though they do not always show enlarged ventricles. I would almost guarantee you that child is also stuck in a perpetual state of fight or flight. It’s brain has more convolutions in the areas that affect the 5 senses. I had been stuck in that state for the majority of my life and now that I’m learning to live outside of a hyper vigilant state, my intelligence has increased and my body heals very much faster which is unusual for a forty year old, also this would effect the growth rate in children and probably did with me. I have ptsd, and although I haven’t been diagnosed yet I have all the symptoms of dissociative my dr. is ruling out schizophrenia through the use of anti psychotics which as of yet have made zero difference.

    • Neil, your comment has really struck a cord with me and reminds me of my mother and her situation. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia about 30 years ago but she doesn’t think she has it. She thinks she has PTSD and she has multiple learning and social issues. She is very book smart but seems to lack basic common sense sometimes. Its not that she isn’t smart enough even but she never trusts herself… She didn’t have the best upbringing and I would say she is always in “flight” mode. Consequently, I didn’t have the best early childhood and I think this definitely affects my memory and has put me in the fight or flight mode often. Luckily enough for myself I think I’ve partially been “repaired” and can only hope the best for my mom… Interested to know where you get your information and what all you know. I wish you the best on your recovery/journey :)

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