Lecture 7 – 03-01-12
Parenting is bizarre; the fact that many of us will just be handed some little creature
at some point to take care of; you suddenly are the sole responsibility, it’s non-stop
consistent demand. The impact of it on your psychology, we don’t really know what
Does biology come up with mechanism that helps parenting? Today we just want to
consider whether that’s a possibility.
All of the stuff we’ve been looking at so far focused on one type of parenting. There
are specifics we can look at with regards to parenting behaviours.
London Taxi Study
The hippocampus (navigation and spatial relation) is a little bigger for certain
people. Experience does sculpt and change specific parts of the brain that are used
for specific tasks. The model that the brain is really a muscle; that’s more than a
metaphor, it’s pretty true.
It’s possible that there may be major changes in the brain that are allowing you to
better interact with your child. There’s a huge wave of hormonal change with
London taxi video
They must create intricate mental map of landmarks and location. For 150 years
every new cab driver has to pass a gruelling exam – “the knowledge” – for people to
look at how the brain adapts and reacts. Hippocampus must be the key to success.
Direct experience is an essential part of the training. How does the brain retain all
that ordre and information? Part of the hippocampus was larger in these drivers. The
hippocampus has a spatial map in it for the cab drivers. The increase in knowledge
allows the hippocampus to grow bigger. This study suggests that the adult brain can
You really get engaged in learning something, is there something really happening?
This is problematic. It could be that if you got this huge hippocampus, you may be a
person that wants to be a taxi driver. The more that you were driving, the bigger that
side of the hippocampus was.
Maternal Brain Circuit
What has biology given people to become parents? It’s possible that our brains
are changing structurally. If the hardware is changing, you can imagine that the
function and operation is changing as well. Hormones can start to change the
hormones and number of synapses that are produced in the brain. We just didn’t
know that experience of doing something could cause those changes. Can some changes in hormones actually affect behaviour and we already got a
taste of this seeing that during pregnancy when you get a rise in oxytocin, that
predicts how you parent.
Parent Cortisol Inconsistent
In the 3 trimester, the amount of stress hormone you have predicts the
behaviour negatively. The relationship between cortisol and behaviour is not the
same. More cortisol, more positive behaviour, more stress behaviour. In this first
study we saw that more cortisol you had, less oxytocin, less parenting you show.
After you give birth, how much coritsol you have in your system when you’re sitting
down, the level cortisol in your system predicts the amount of parenting you do.
There are different kinds of relationship between cortisol and parenting. Parents like
the smell of the child more if there’s more cortisol, they show greater sympathy when
We have to figure out when is the appropriate time to have that amount of
cortisol. This is what we got to figure out.
Maternal Cortisol and Maternal Responsiveness in Yellow Baboons
The more cortisol you have the more responsive you are to your child
(Fleming); prenatally vs. postnatally;
Left graph (Prenatal) – glucocorticoids we also call cortisol. There has been
different ways of measuring it. You have to figure out ways on how to get saliva in the
wild from animals like we do with humans. Prenatally there is an association. The
more these mothers had these glucocorticoids the more responsive they were with
their child significantly.
Right graph (postnatally) – the amount of cortisol in the feces does not predict
that same association.
Specific types of parent behaviour
In reality, there may be a lot more going on about how parents behave. When
you’re interacting with the child, they may engage with the child. Others will do a lot
of responsiveness with the child’s behaviour i.e. mirroring, imitating. A more subtle
type of behaviour is when there’s this reciprocal imitations i.e. peekaboo. The child
will instigate in a game and make that a mutual experience. Are any of these specific
behaviours associated more with the cortisol in the parent?
You take a group of parents you want to know how much of the time they are
watching, or mirroring of the child, etc. The amount of watching and the more
sophisticated style, the imitation, it’s the smallest proportion of time spent with the child. The parent is usually trying to get the child’s attention. The parent is initiating
and has the child interact and engage in reciprocal contact. We have to keep that in
mind when you’re thinking about the relationship with cortisol and the parental
Prototypical parent-infant interaction profiles
During normal interaction, the parent will show fair amount of responsiveness.
After some kind of big emotional event, you’ll see the parent just do the potential
listening i.e. when the child is upset. They just try to get the child’s attention and
Another group strangely did the opposite. When the upset-ness comes, the
parent poured on the nice responsiveness. Which one is better?
When you are interacting with the child what happens with stress response?
There is a huge decrease in cortisol. Interacting with your child is good for the parent.
Associations Among variables
We don’t find much significance in cortisol of parent watching, etc. But, parents
sitting in the chair have higher levels of cortisol compared with the “responsive”
Contingent Responsiveness by Infant Affect
Is the kid happy or not happy? When you’re taking care of something, you’re
trying to get their attention, but you don’t get their attention, how do you get this
child taken care of? You can imagine that that has a big impact on the parent’s level
Low positive effect or high positive effect; if the kid’s happy the parent is more
responsive to them.
When you’re a parent just sitting down, more basal cortisol potentially makes
you more involved. The question is, can we identify a group of parents that reflects
the most responsive contingent behaviour?
If you are one of these parents that has high level of basal cortisol and you
have a kid who has high