|The brain waves of mothers and babies synchronize when the mother is happy, a new study discovered / Photo by: Evgeny Atamanenko via Shutterstock|
The brain waves of mothers and babies synchronize when the mother is happy, a new study discovered.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge explained that if mothers are expressing more positive emotions, their brains are “more in tune” or are strongly connected to their babies’ brains.
Importance of Emotional Communication Between Children and Parents
The team’s study titled “Emotional valence modulates the topology of the parent-infant inter-brain network,” which was published in the scientific journal NeuroImage, detailed that emotional communication between children and parents is important during the child’s early life. However, less is known about how the infant’s interpersonal neural connectivity (synchronized brain waves) with their parents is affected because of the emotional quality of their interaction. This is why the team explored the structure and qualities of interpersonal neural connectivity of both the children and the mothers' group.
Mother-Infant Neural Process
For their experiment, the researchers recruited 15 mothers and asked them to model negative and positive emotions while interacting with their babies, who had a mean age of 10.3 months. They then used a diagnostic test called electroencephalography (EEG) to look at the brain signals of the mothers and their babies during an interaction. Results revealed that when the mother is happy, their brain waves synchronize with their infants in about 6 to 9-hertz frequency, the infant alpha band. In the study of infancy and early childhood, EEG band power analysis is often used.
Effects of the Mother’s Emotional State to the Infant’s Brain
Positive interaction of the mother, such as lots of eye contact with the baby, will enhance the ability of the infant’s and mother’s brains to operate in one system. Consequently, it will promote the efficient flow of information sharing between the baby and the mother, the researchers added.
Lead author Dr. Vicky Leong from the Department of Psychology explained that based also on their previous work, babies are more ready and receptive to learn from their moms if the neural connection with the parent is strong. This is also very important because during early life, the baby’s brain can significantly change and the changes are often driven by experiences. So, if the mother uses a positive emotional tone every time she interacts with her baby, she can connect better with her little one and stimulate the mental capacity of the infant.
Weakened Neural Connection if the Mother Is Depressed
The team also found out that if the mother is depressed, there is a weakened neural connection between her and the child, which also affects the infant’s learning. Due to the mother’s mental state, she would use a flatter tone when communicating with the child, respond less even when the baby is trying to get her attention, and make less eye contact with the child.
Leong said via science research platform Science Daily that our emotions, in general, alter the way the brain share information with other people. Having positive emotions will help us to communicate more efficiently. On the other hand, depression can create a negative effect on the mother’s ability to create a connection with her infant because the social cues that encourage connection will be less readily available for the child to see and feel. This means that children of depressed mothers do not receive the optimal level of emotional input they need to thrive in the world.
|The team also found out that if the mother is depressed, there is a weakened neural connection between her and the child, which also affects the infant’s learning / Photo by: HTeam via Shutterstock|
Application of the Findings to Other Affiliative Bonds
Lorena Santamaria from the Department of Psychology and colleagues also pointed out that since humans are a social species, we share emotional states with other individuals. Their findings, therefore, do not just apply to mothers and their children but other affiliative bonds. It includes bonds between siblings, close friends, and couples, where one is attuned with the other. The strength of the interpersonal neural connectivity effect will likely depend on the level of trust between the two people and how well they’ve known each other.
The study was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s Transforming Social Sciences Grant, Ministry of Education, ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellowship, and Nanyang Technological University start-up Grant.
Baby Brain Development
The development of the brain starts during the embryonic period, where most of the brain’s structural features appear. Early in the second semester, sulci (grooves) and gyri (folds or ridges) begin to appear in the brain’s surface. The cerebral cortex is also growing in thickness. Myelin or the sheath that forms around the nerves starts to appear as well during the second trimester. In the third trimester, the cerebral cortex assumes many duties.
Year one then highlights the prenatal brain development, where the newborn starts to recognize human faces and can differentiate sad and happy expressions. At birth, the baby knows its mother’s voice, possibly by hearing the sounds it hears while in the womb. This is according to the nonprofit organization Urban Child Institute.
Parents may experience difficult emotions at some point during pregnancy or even after the birth of the child, but parenting stress will not make things better. The study reminds parents of the significant role they play and how their interactions with their baby help to shape the way the child behaves, thinks, and feels later in life.