A recent study at the School of Medicine reveals that children whose parents nurtured them early in life develop brains with a larger hippocampus. A key structure, the hippocampus aids in learning, memory and response to stress.
This research is the first to link changes in this region of children’s brain anatomy to a parent’s nurturing.
“I think the public health implications suggest that we should pay more attention to parents’ nurturing,” says Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry. “We should do what we can as a society to foster these skills because clearly nurturing greatly impacts later development.”
The brain-imaging study included school-age children who had participated in an earlier study of preschool depression. That study involved children who had symptoms of depression, other psychiatric disorders or who were mentally healthy with no known psychiatric problems.
As part of the initial study, Luby and her colleagues observed and videotaped the children interacting with a parent as the parent completed a required task, and the child was asked to wait to open an attractive gift.
Raters, who knew nothing about the child’s health or the parent’s temperament, evaluated how much or how little the parent supported and nurtured the child in this stressful circumstance.
For the current study, the researchers conducted brain scans on 92 of the children from the previous study. The imaging revealed that children without depression whose parents nurtured them exhibited a hippocampus almost 10 percent larger than children whose parents were not as nurturing. Until now, no solid evidence existed that linked a nurturing parent to changes in brain anatomy in children.
Read more about this study in the university’s Newsroom.