I was at a talk today by an infant psychologist. It was about attachment and the importance of babies’ social interactions. The need for love has long been established as stronger than the need for food in some rather unpleasant experiments sensorily depriving rhesus monkeys in the 50’s and 60’s, which by the way would never pass any ethics committee these days. The following video shows it, it isn’t very “nice” but fascinating nevertheless.
The speaker showed us a video of the “Still face experiment” where the researcher got a parent to show no emotion and not interact at all with their baby and watched their response.
I tried it today on The Boy, it was startling, at only 4 months he reacted just as described in the video, given his level of development (i.e. he smiled, he waved his limbs around, he looked away, he vocalised then cried. He didn’t point or gesture at anything – he isn’t capable of it) what was more startling was that he did it in only about 30 seconds.
It is abundantly clear that if only 2 mins gets this reaction imagine what damage having a disengaged distant parent would be, or worse the psychological damage done by having no stable parent at all like in the Eastern European orphanages reported so widely in mid the 90s.
Apparently your social responses and desire for social interaction is hard wired by about 18 months! The speaker put up pictures of a functional MRI study that showed temporal lobe activity in the sensory deprived kids is grossly reduced – whole bits of brain aren’t turned on when they should be! Some other researchers did weird sensory and social depravation experiments on animals (I missed the details) and their temporal lobes just didn’t develop properly. It’s amazing to think your social interaction and how people treat you determines how well bits of your brain grow!
Try it on your little one – it’s fascinating! (Clearly I mean the face experiment, not depriving them then dissecting out their temporal lobes).
Following my recent post mentioning small boys liking ross things and bugs I had a fantastic small boy moment today thanks to The Wife. She noticed a Tree Weta just outside the front door – off I ran for the camera.
Wetas are great big gnarly bugs that live here in New Zealand. They are nocturnal and live in burrows in the ground or in trees (depending on species) emerging to hunt invertebrates at night. This specimen’s body was about 8 cm long and wonderfully gnarly!
Gnarly Great Big Tree Weta
(Gnarlius Buggus Maximus Awesomeus)
They aren’t particularly dangerous unless you are an invertebrate. Their jaws are pretty hefty and they can give you a nasty nip. This species of Weta is pretty puny by the way, the Giant Weta is even bigger (as the name might suggest). Incidentally Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop in Wellington is named after these fantastic beasties.
So why am I sharing this? What has it to do with being a Dad or bringing up a nerd? NOTHING. I just love big gnarly bugs and this one lives on my porch!! How awesome is that?
The Boy is here! He arrived on the 4th weighing 8lb 4oz. He’s small, cute, cuddly and making his presence known. For someone who can’t yet control his facial muscles, let alone his hands he’s doing a very good job of controlling us! Already my days are pretty unrecognisable – hence the delay in posting.
As super proud parents do, we went for a newborn photoshoot at 10 days with a local photographer. In true nerd fashion we had seen her on facebook and it turned out she was in the next town to us. She really was superb and very slick. NZers in the Waikato should look her up!
His birth was an interesting process from many perspectives. I had to go from Doctor where I run situations to what amounted to Cheerleader, and it took some adjustment. I had to constantly remind myself I was The Wife’s husband and not her doctor. This was especially difficult as it was unfortunately quite a “medical birth” no waterbaths and whalesong here my friends! After various medications, an epidural and lots of pushing and some pulling he was out. Out and screaming.
Oxytocin – The “Hug Hormone”
The biologist side of me knows that I am designed to like my offspring. Oxytocin released by both of us when I hug my Little Man is there to help me bond with him and him to me. I am SUPPOSED to be smitten, to be instantly protective and adoring. I am an animal like all other mammals before me, I’m nothing special and these biological mind control tricks are as likely to work on me as they would on a dog or a badger.
I am so very happy though. It was magical, seeing my little man for the first time. Holding him and staring into his grey eyes as we studied each other for the first time will probably be one of the defining moments of my life. It is a bigger deal than any previous life event. the pride and happiness I felt at that moment was better than all my graduations, my wedding and pretty much anything else all combined, and yet ….. it’s nothing special, babies are born every minute of every day. I am not particularly clever or unusual in that my wife has had a baby. In the grand scheme of things – SO WHAT?
I know it’s only biology that makes me feel like this. Pure and simple. It’s only biology but it’s bloody awesome! I have never felt happier!