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Everything we do or say or learn is mediated by the wrinkled and gelatinous matter inside our skulls. As children grow up, their brains obviously change; not only do the neurons get charged with all the information the children acquire, but the brains physically change as well. It should be no surprise that children who have physical problems in upbringing, like, say, a bad diet, have brains that don't properly grow. It is also no surprise that children who are brought up in emotionally distressing situations have trouble getting along with others into adulthood. It was a surprise to find out, however, that children who are brought up under stress actually have brains that are physically different, and operate differently, from those who are well cared for. In the ambitiously-titled _Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain_ (Brunner-Routledge), Sue Gerhardt has summarized current findings in neuroscience about the developing brains of infants and how that development is influenced by the infants' early attachment experiences. Her work will be tough in parts for those unfamiliar with the neurological territory, but she presents many appealing examples, illustrations, and case studies, so that anyone might enjoy here learning about the inchoate findings of the links between attachment experiences and brain development.

The idea that experiences change brains physically, beyond the mere instillation of learning, is fully accepted. Gerhardt concentrates on the orbitofrontal cortex and on the effects of cortisol, a stress hormone which is required for development of the cortex and other brain regions, but which causes such development to be thwarted if the levels are too high. Babies who are stressed, who do not get proper attention and do not have confidence in being cared for, are likely to have high cortisol levels with resultant malformation of the orbitofrontal cortex. Early experience and patterns of attachment do change brain chemistry and structure in ways that cannot be changed back after a circumscribed period of development. It used to be that studying how babies would respond to their caregivers could only be done by sitting behind a two-way mirror and doing limited, uncruel experiments and watching the behavioral results. It could be observed, for instance, that an inconsistent parent could tend to produce an anxious child. This is the sort of "soft" science that is a target for being woolly-headed liberal supposition, but it can now begin to be supplemented with the hard facts of neuroscience.

How we are treated as babies influences how our brains develop and determines how we get along with others. As Gerhardt says, this is one of the strange things about research in this field: "After developing ingenious experiments and rigorous controls, the fruits of its labours tend to be blindingly obvious." It is, however, important that we now are getting a scientific basis to show that what is self-evident actually can be shown by evidence. The evidence compellingly argues for a responsive style of care, continuously available, as the best environment for a baby, and Gerhardt's own work as a psychotherapist has taken on cases of parents and babies who need assistance in arranging such an environment. Her case illustrations are excellent and readable, and the simple lesson, now backed by hard science, that babies need and deserve responsive care for proper emotional development, cannot be overstressed.
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on September 30, 2007
This book really opened my eyes to the fundamentals of brain development in infancy. I had no idea how much the actual physiology of the brain is affected by infant experience, not just the psychological. Sources are well cited, ideas are well backed up in scientific research, and the information is presented in a way which benefits lay readers as well as researchers (with an introduction about brain structure and development).

I suggest every parent-to-be get a hold of this book. One reviewer was dissapointed by the lack of specific exercises to play with. However, I don't think they are necessary because this book gives specifics about why certain strategies affect infants. I think understanding why certain types of parenting work better than others makes parents more likely to come up with the kind of adaptive spontaneous strategies which come out of such a way of thinking. You could also check out Brazelton for more specific info about exercises to do with your baby.

As a side note, once you read this book and make decisions about parenting based on the exhaustive research cited within, you will not only feel more confident about your parenting, but you will be able to defend against attacks from helpful but persistent grandparents, in-laws, and friends - should you want to engage in such discussions.
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on February 24, 2006
A scientific, psychoanalytic look at brain development differences in babies who are loved, cuddled, touched vs babies whose mothers are cold. The book focuses on the relationship between mother and child and gives us an understanding of "how babies needs cannot be put off". We as adults, need to adjust our schedules to babies needs. Not receiving the stimulation necessary has been shown to affect brain development.
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on January 31, 2007
Why Love Matters offers an eloquent overview of the latest scientific research on attachment. The author has accomplished the formidable task of linking the concrete language of neurochemistry to the more abstract area of attachment theory. In so doing, she has greatly clarified the nature-nurture argument. Her book beautifully establishes the critical importance of close emotional attachment for optimum brain development in childhood, and one's subsequent capacity for love and trust in adulthood. Why Love Matters is an essential new work in the field of attachment.

Jan Hunt, author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart
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on August 14, 2005
This book offers an overview of baby brain development that makes me want to learn more and to educate others about the crucial nature of responsive infant care. It is a must read for those who work with families in any capacity as well as those with infants at home.
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on October 13, 2007
An excellent source of information for everyone. Would be extremely helpful for mothers-to-be. Helps you understanding your developmental psychology. Gives you more information on you and why you turned out the way you did. Should be required reading for high school students who will be parents of the future. It would give them a better overview on how to interact with their children in a more positive way.
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on September 15, 2012
Well i dont read hardly any books but when i went through a hard patch of anxiety a couple of years ago, i was recommended this book. IT CHANGED MY LIFE... really helped me to understand why i have become the person that i am & that the decisions of my parents & the people i grew up with contributed so much as to how i am today...

I have now bought 4 of these books & given them as presents to friends who are expecting babies, this book should be part of every governments guide to how to bring up children & every new parent , male & female should read it.. its not just a baby book, theres way more to it than that.
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VINE VOICEon August 18, 2008
Everyone has seen a mother kiss her infant. Who would have thought such a simple gesture would be needed--very much needed.

Gerhardt explores all the recent scientific research on infant brain growth, and has come up with a book that's desperately needed.

Mothers who are angry, depressed, or cold, can alter the actual structure and growth of their child's expanding brain. "Early experience has a great impact on the baby's physiological systems, because they are so unformed and delicate...Even the growth of the brain itself...may not progress adequately if the baby doesn't have the right conditions to develop" (p 19).

There are some scary facts here. Mothers who do not adequately love and interact with their children create babies with a smaller than usual prefrontal cortex, babies likely to grow up to suffer from depression and social problems.

Another consequence of poor mothering can be narcissistic personality disorder (p 157).

One third of our children today are born illegitimate. How many of those poor mothers can cope, work jobs, and provide a truly loving and interactive home for their children?
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on March 24, 2012
I spent the last 6 months caring for an infant (not my own) and during nap times in the rocking chair, I read this book cover to cover several times. Along with Margot Sutherland's The Science of Parenting, this is one of THE indispensable guides to infant care. A book with staggering political implications (see Gerhardt's more recent book, The Selfish Society: How We All Forgot to Love One Another and Made Money Instead), no one with responsibilities for the care of young children can afford not to read this book.

An absolutely epochal work that has managed to go completely unnoticed in the US, where it is needed most.

Note to author: I eagerly await a second edition of Why Love Matters, which should allow for the incorporation of the latest science on mirror neurons into the book...
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on August 31, 2006
The text is well written and provides readily accessible information related to cognitive development and lifelong impacts. I believe the comparison of nature/nurture and the ensuing debates in this area are well served by this material. Any parent, communication scholar, or educator would be well served by reading this text. The only conflict I had with this book was the title, which may mislead people seeking pop press to believing that this is one of those frothy self-help books. When I finished the book, I could feel and hear the applause for the author!
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