In the beautiful children’s book Love You Forever, Robert Munsch depicts the loving relationship between a mother and son.
In the story, the mother holds her child every night from the moment he is born all the way until he is a full grown man, and sings to him the touching song:
I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.
Then one day, the mother can no longer hold her son, and so he picks her up and sings her the same song he had grown up with. It’s a beautiful testament to the loving bond that a mother and child can have; and as we are beginning to understand, this amazing bond is critical for the proper development of an adolescent.
Researchers at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA attempted to find out.
Aviva Olsavsky, a resident physician at UCLA and first author of the study stated, “The early relationship between children and their parents or primary caregivers has implications for their social interaction later in life, and we believe the amygdala is involved in this process.”
The amygdala is an almond-shape set of neurons that is located in the brain’s medial temporal lobe and is believed to play a key role in the processing of memory and emotional reactions. It is also believed to play a role in intense relationships and attachments.
Studies with rodents have found that the process of forming a maternal bond early in life has powerful effect on amygdala development and attachment-related behaviors. However, little work has been done on humans.
The researchers compared two groups: children who were raised by their biological parents and children who were raised in an institution such as an orphanage. They performed functional magnetic resonance imaging on the children and looked at differences in amygdala activity when exposed to a picture of their natural or adoptive parent and a complete stranger.
Children who were raised by their biological parents had higher amydala activity when they saw a picture of their parent when compared to the picture of a stranger.
In contrast, the children who were institutionally raised had equal amydala activity when shown a picture of their adoptive parent and a stranger. They also exhibited overall greater amygdala activity to strangers than children who were raised by their biological parents.
This effect was stronger in children who spent the most time in an orphanage.
Well, there is a condition known as indiscriminate friendliness that is associated with reactive attachment disorders. Indiscriminate friendliness is characterized by an inappropriate willingness to approach strangers.
As one can guess, the inability to distinguish between friend and stranger can be extremely problematic and place a child or an adult in potentially dangerous situations.
One could also infer from this study that children who suffer through neglectful home environments may also experience indiscriminate friendliness. It could also provide an explanation as to why some people get into relationships quickly with strangers and are often taken advantage of.
Although we are only beginning to scratch the surface in understanding the inner workings of the human mind, one thing is become certain: our relationships with others play a critical role on our development. Therefore, it is important to exude love and compassion towards our children so that they develop into fully functioning adults, just like the mother in Love You Forever.
If, as an adult, you have found yourself becoming overly involved quickly and then regretting it, you may want to consider that you need help in this area.
Recognize the issue. This is the all important first step – expanded awareness of your own behavior. Discuss this issue with trusted friends or professional advisers. Re-educate yourself, especially about the ways in which you may be unwittingly sabotaging yourself. Learn which criteria are important in requiring someone to earn your trust.
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Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Source of Negativity, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage. Click here to learn more.
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Last reviewed: 6 Jan 2014