Monday, July 10, 2006

Mother's Presence Can Override Fear

....in rats. But it makes sense in humans, too. The weird thing about the article, though, is the researcher's conclusion:

"The mother's ability to modify fear learning circuitry may provide clues to abusive attachment and predisposition for mental illness and altered emotional expression later in life," the researchers write, proving that in some cases mother may not know best.
But that is not the conclusion I get at all from this research. To simplify: the researchers exposed baby rats to a "novelty", that is a new experience, both with and without his mother present. In both cases, the novelty included a benign entity--a piece of paper scented with peppermint--but here is the interesting part: when the baby encountered the novelty it got a wee shock on it's tail. This, according to Skinner's theories of conditioning would be a negative reinforcement. That is, theoretically you would avoid the stimuli if it was negative. But these baby rats don't--or at least they don't when their mom is around.

The rats who received this negative shock with a neutral or positive stimuli like the peppermint paper with Mama around had normal levels of stress hormone and weren't put off for the rest of their life from peppermint. Those without mom, well they suffer from peppermint paranoia forever. The researchers came to the conclusion above. Does it seem to you that they are straining for evidence to support their belief?

Let me give you a real Mama-Baby hypothetical and we can see why this trait, the ability to retry a stimuli, even a painful one, might be necessary and even good. Say a baby is learning to walk. He desires to walk--it gets him where he is going faster and hey, everyone seems to be doing it. By himself, he falls. It hurts. He's scared. With mom around, he falls. It hurts. But, he's not scared, he's comforted. He knows, because all babies know, that mom will protect him and keep him safe. He doesn't have to worry. He can try again. And again. And again. He can try again even with the negative reinforcement. Mom equals safe, low cortisol levels. Mom equals a walking kid instead of a kid who motors on all fours because learning to walk can be painful.

How about this conclusion: Children left experiencing novel stimuli that results in pain, but is necessary for development (like walking), while alone will 1) have higher levels of stress hormones 2) tend to shy away from anxiety causing stimuli thus making them fearful, fretful creatures and 3) may result in developmental delays. How about that?

How about: a kid needs a mom around to develop into a healthy, happy rat, or person, for that matter.

1 comment:

vj said...

I knew I could count on Melissa to point this out. Gee, this really made my day today!
vj