Love key to brain development in children
March 12th, 2012
11:51 AM ET

Love key to brain development in children

Editor's note: Dr. Charles Raison, CNNhealth's mental health expert, is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Ever noticed how scientific opinions swing from one extreme to the other?

Take the importance of mothers in the development of children. In the early days of psychiatry almost every mental illness, from depression to schizophrenia to autism was blamed on bad mothering. Then in the 1960’s and 70’s the discovery of medications that helped these illnesses allowed psychiatry to reframe them as biological conditions, no different from cancer or heart disease. Parents were fully absolved for the mental illnesses of their children, except to the degree that they passed along bad genes that caused chemical imbalances in the brain.

Myths inevitably survive long after they’ve been scientifically disproven. Such is the case with the fantasy that mental illnesses can be written off solely to genes and chemicals. Over the last decade a string of scientific discoveries has shown that the biology driving mental illness has at least as much to do with the environment as with chemicals or genetic inheritance. And it increasingly appears that the single most powerful environmental factor is the love - or its lack - that children receive from their parents. So in a very real way we parents are back on the hook for the lifelong emotional well-being of our kids.

I say this based on a thousand studies. But to make the point here, let me describe a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that more definitively than any before it shows how parental care literally changes not just kids’ hearts and minds, but their brains as well.

Here’s how the study was done. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recruited 92 children between the ages of 3 and 6. Rather than asking parents about how they treated their children, the researchers brought the kids and parents into a lab and videotaped them as the parents, almost always mothers, tried to help their children cope with a mildly stressful task that was designed to approximate the stress of daily parenting.

Ratings of parental ability to nurture their children were done by study personnel who watched the videos while knowing nothing about either children or parents. Several years later, on average, the children had the size of a brain area called the hippocampus measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). After taking into account a whole range of factors that can affect hippocampal size, the researchers found that children with especially nurturing, caring mothers, based on their behavior during the laboratory stressor, had significantly larger hippocampi (plural of hippocampus - you’ve got one on each side of the brain) than kids with mothers who were average or poor nurturers.

Why is this finding important? Because more than any place else in the brain, when it comes to the hippocampus, size matters. Other things being equal, having small hippocampi increases your risk for all sorts of troubles, from depression and post traumatic stress disorder to Alzheimer’s disease.  If you’ve got depression, having small hippocampi predicts that you won’t respond as well to antidepressants as well as depressed people with larger hippocampi.

Just as having small hippocampi increases the risk for all sorts of mental disorders, all the things in our lives that put us under undue stress and strain also shrink the hippocampus. This is as true for cigarette smoking as it is for being exposed as a child to abuse or parental neglect.

In addition to protecting us against brain illnesses, we all need big hippocampi because this brain area, while not much bigger than your little finger, plays a disproportionately  large role in how you will be able to handle the stresses and strains of your life, and how you will remember your life when it’s all said and done. This is so because the hippocampus is crucial for our ability to form and store personal memories. It is also of central importance for restraining the body’s stress and inflammatory responses, both of which can induce significant damage to bodily organs and the brain if not properly reined in.

The finding that especially nurturing mothers can literally grow their children’s hippocampi doesn’t exist in isolation. It is consistent with hundreds of animal studies showing that maternal nurturing has a range of biological effects relevant to physical and emotional health. An especially striking example of this is a study done several years ago in rodents showing that maternal nurturance (measured as amount of licking that rat pups received from their mothers) literally changed how the rat pups’ DNA was expressed in the hippocampus. As a result of these changes, pups who received extra licking had changes in their stress systems that have been repeatedly associated with well-being in humans.

So we underestimate our power as parents at our children’s peril. But I would be remiss if I left you with the impression that mother love is all-powerful or that genes and chemicals don’t matter at all. The association of parental nurturing with subsequent hippocampal size in children was only observed in non-depressed children. In children with signs of significant early depression, maternal nurturing in the laboratory had no association with subsequent hippocampal volume. Why this was the case is anybody’s guess, but it might suggest that at least some cases of major depression are indeed mostly genetic or “hardwired” from an early age, and so are fairly resistant to positive things from the environment.

Given the complexity of the human brain, should we be surprised that every possible outcome of genes, chemicals and environment is actualized in someone somewhere? Meantime, one generation full of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world.

soundoff (1,587 Responses)
  1. riley

    What about father's love?

    March 12, 2012 at 12:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JoJo

      This is the 10's. Fathers disappeared a few decades ago and haven't been seen in the wild since.

      March 12, 2012 at 13:18 | Report abuse |
    • Molly

      I noticed that too Riley. A father's role is just as important as the mother's.

      March 12, 2012 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
    • Mathew

      They did mention that "most" of the nurturing seen was by mothers, but didn't say anything about those where the father was the primary nurturer. In my family, my wife comes from a family history of lack of nurturing, where I come from a family history of great nurturing (for lack of better words). Of course my wife has depression. However, with my children, they get a lot of nurturing from myself, the primary parent to them as my wife works 12-hour shifts... so what does this do to them? Good question.

      March 12, 2012 at 13:58 | Report abuse |
    • Sanie

      Fathers are at work all day long in middle class americans. My husband sees his kids partially in the weekends, the rest of the week he is working and paying uncle Sam's taxes! Welcome to America!

      March 12, 2012 at 14:15 | Report abuse |
    • Victor

      You are right there on line with Uncle Sam hon...or do you not use any of the money he makes for yourself? Cause I'm sure he is so happy to work all the time so you can hang out at home.

      March 12, 2012 at 14:57 | Report abuse |
    • A Father's Role

      A father's role is equally important but far more basic. Keep her off the pole!

      March 12, 2012 at 15:13 | Report abuse |
    • DeeNYC

      no one cares about dad, the only thing dad gets it the big piece of chicken at dinner time.

      March 12, 2012 at 15:14 | Report abuse |
    • Jared

      I think that regardless of who the primary care giver is, that it is important for children to be loved and nurtured.

      March 12, 2012 at 15:21 | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      It's a scientific study – likely while they only use mothers. Statistically speaking, mothers are more often nurturers than fathers – thus the choice for mothers in this study. If it was mother and fathers the data would be so complex – as it is this study is probably is incredibly simplified in order to present on CNN. If you're not a scientist, try to read the additional journal article and see if you can understand it! Not to belittle father's love, but there is a reason why the study was conducted this way...

      March 12, 2012 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
    • CEW

      The study didn't make claims about the importantance of one parent over the other. It's just that nearly all of the children they recruited were accompanied by the MOTHER, so that's what they COULD observe. I have no doubt that children who are lovingly raised by both parents have the best situation.

      March 12, 2012 at 15:28 | Report abuse |
    • llotz

      @DeeNYC, hahaha, Chris Rock knows what's up!!!! well played.

      March 12, 2012 at 16:08 | Report abuse |
    • GrogInOhio

      Oh man... someone already stole the "big piece of chicken" line!! Bummed...

      March 12, 2012 at 16:38 | Report abuse |
    • corpsman

      Good point. My wife and I both work, but somewhat different schedules. We try to split childcare 50/50, but it ends up being 70/30 usually (she does more). Still, I take our toddler some portion of 5 days per week and I think that's a good thing. And I also have a lot of fun!

      March 12, 2012 at 22:51 | Report abuse |
    • felicia

      Mother's love is most important in the early years, infant and toddler years especially. Father's love becomes most important in adolescent years. In either case, children need both father and mother's love throughout, the children need to see father and mother together in love loving them. But infants especially gravitate towards mommy, for obvious reasons, supplement and nurture. As they become toddlers, boys especially are mama's boys, little girls are daddy's little princesses, but they still love and run to their mama's. But when that certain age of adolescent happens, boys obviously start looking to their father's because they are becoming a man. And girls also gravitate to the father, I guess because they are becoming a woman and they're looking for answers how to find the right qualities in their future husband.

      March 12, 2012 at 23:51 | Report abuse |
    • Tanya Miracle

      I only know two fathers who live with and care for their children. The rest are AWOL. Father's love seems hypothetical anymore.

      March 12, 2012 at 23:56 | Report abuse |
    • DadsRock

      Don't need no stinking article to validate men as fathers! My kids are awesome because I am their father! I'm patient, I listen, I educate, Discipline Fairly , I care and I tell them I love them at every opportunity and I am not afraid to cry in front of them! Nope..Don't need an article because great dads are just that! Great!

      March 13, 2012 at 00:16 | Report abuse |
    • ron mccord

      I believe this. I can remember getting hugged by my mother only once as a child. I was 7. it was so unexpected that to this day can't understand why she did it. but she never did it again. the first time i can recall her saying "I love you" I was 37. again, a shock. to this day i find no ability to feel love from anyone. real or amagined, I see it all as suspect. The plus side of it is that all my kids, neices nephews etc received lots from me even if they didn't get much or any from fellow siblings, mother or father. They are doing great; treating their kids, grand kids, nieces nephews etc with much love respect contact praise that it makes me proud to know that I propigated it. Though I must say I truly wish that someone had loved me more. One boyfriend of my mother took me and my brother 3 places as a kid, though. fishing, wrestling, and to a rams football game. I have remembered those 3 places ever since. even though it has been easily more than 47 years. my father; disneyland twice. and to a fast food joint a couple times. Kids don't need much they appreciate it for ever.

      March 13, 2012 at 01:50 | Report abuse |
    • Ridge_Blue

      Men cannot have babies. After carrying a baby for 9 months, most mothers have a bond with their babies that men cannot replicate. Some father may indeed be more nurturing than their partners, but if you look at society as a whole, mothers do most of the nurturing, especially the early nurturing. Therefore, the researchers examined mothers first. They or someone else will probably examine fathers in the future. But mothers are the primary nurturers in our society. Because only women can carry babies, this relationship has a strong biological basis and is likely to continue even as our society changes. In short, moms rule.

      March 13, 2012 at 08:57 | Report abuse |
  2. ORLY?

    While this study at least gets away from the dangers of self reporting, I fail to see this as any sort of conclusive evidence. Measuring interactions on one day and then charting hippocampus size much later does not in any way imply causality. To site the most common example: One can find that in July, ice cream sales increase as well as the number of violent crimes. Shady scientists might imply that ice cream causes violent crime, after all the numbers say it does, right? WRONG! I have no doubt that love affects a child's growth, but studies like this do nothing to prove it. Also, if you follow the authors conclusions to a natural extension you start to notice some problems. Seeing as the mothers of today are known for their helicopter parenting over nurturing style, shouldn't we be seeing a lot less depressed people? If the most nurturing mothers make the most depression resistant kids, why are we shoving so many more pills down our children throats then they did in our grandparent's "suck it up" time?

    March 12, 2012 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael Vick

      I think your argument would apply for smoking and cancer as well, and that's the favorite defense by the tobacco companies. I agree the subject requires further study. I'd like to see the effect of the absence of love doing to the brain as well. But that may prove to be a bit difficult in a controlled environment.

      This research falls under the category of "better safe than sorry". Any parents would simply buy in on this research rather than doing the opposite.

      March 12, 2012 at 15:33 | Report abuse |
    • Terri

      I guess you missed this part: "I say this based on a thousand studies. But to make the point here, let me describe a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences"

      And there have indeed been thousands of studies on this subject. For simplicity he chose one to cite from. There is so much evidence to back this up it would be difficult not to find more through an easy search online.

      March 12, 2012 at 16:09 | Report abuse |
    • rhope

      He is using the study to make a point made by several other studies....
      In addtion, such experiments as the one described usually include a survey/questionnaire that would capture the day to day parent/child interaction or relationships.... I would imagine that that was the case as well.

      March 12, 2012 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      First question I asked in my child development classes in the 70s: How many believe your parents love you? Every hand went up. Second question: How many FELT loved? Typically a pause and then much fewer hands went up. That's your mission as a parent - being able to make your love felt.

      March 12, 2012 at 23:38 | Report abuse |
    • Nate

      Well said....

      March 13, 2012 at 00:06 | Report abuse |
  3. Fiona

    Not only did this study largely ignore the role of nurturing or neglectful fathers ( or other primary caregivers, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles), and rely too heavily on the very subjective evaluation of nurturing skills, the researchers subjected children to MRIs for no medical reason. I find that shocking, and repugnant. I've had multiple MRIs done of my brain. The experience can be extremely frightening.

    I had an emotionally cold, manipulative and abusive mother who was an alcoholic. I think it's probable she suffered from undiagnosed depression ( as well as narcissistic personality disorder, but let's not go there). My father was the nurturing one. As an adult I've suffered years of severe depression and have not dealt well with the " stresses of life." I'm perfectly happy to blame it all on my mother, but I suspect nothing is that clearly defined.

    March 12, 2012 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • joelle

      "extremely frightening"??? wow, what did they ever do to you in the MR scanner? In our studies children go in asleep, and I never saw one waking up. I actually had one who fell asleep in the scanner, it was too monotonous for her.

      March 12, 2012 at 23:18 | Report abuse |
  4. Skeptic

    Did any one consider measuring the hippocampi of the mother's to see if there is a correlation between size and nurturing???

    March 12, 2012 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • allyoop

      That's a very good question! (I thought it was a good study.)

      March 12, 2012 at 14:51 | Report abuse |
    • Jared

      I was thinking the same thing. If a larger hippocampus causes a mother to be more nurturing in the first place, then it may be entirely genetic. A mother with a larger hippocampus produces a child with a larger hippocampus.

      Regardless, children need nurturing. Love your kids, encourage them, and teach them well.

      March 12, 2012 at 15:19 | Report abuse |
    • Bentley

      Brilliant point. So critical that the entire study is rendered folleywithout this information for comparison.

      March 12, 2012 at 15:54 | Report abuse |
    • Fiona

      @jared, comparing the brain image of the mother to that of the child would - in the context of this study - not provide information on the genetics but on the effect of environment on the hippocampus and whether *it could be assumed* that a mother who lacked nurturing as a child would subsequently lack the ability to nurture her own children.

      Unfortunately, for all of you would -be Einsteins who are saying, "Brilliant!" to Skeptic, the corellation would still be unclear. Environmental stress can inhibit the growth of, and shrink, the hippocampus. A smaller hippocampus in the mother does not mean she wasn't nurtured as a child. She could have suffered extreme, prolonged environmental stress at any time of life. Exposure to addiction in the home, or being an addict herself, living in a toxic relationship, working in a high-stress job that she hates, living in a war-affected area, and so on. This is simply an observational study, with no defined parameters. All conclusions are assumed, using very little, very limited, data.

      March 12, 2012 at 16:10 | Report abuse |
    • Dave


      There is such an obvious missing element in this that I went to the original paper and, sure enough, it's missing there and they even acknowledge that they did nothing to rule it out. What if - and this seems likely - hippocampus size is genetic? And what if - and this seems obvious too - mothers with larger hippocampi are more nurturing?

      This is the problem with all of these bad scientific studies (on both sized of nature/nurture spectrum): they choose the answer they want and then design the test to fit that answer, ignoring other potential explanations. At least in this paper they admit that they ignored the other explanation, but then dismissed it thus:

      "On the basis of these data, one cannot rule out that the relationship between maternal support and hippocampal volume in offspring is based on genetic factors, that supportive caregivers could have larger hippocampal volumes and then have biological children with larger volumes. However, there is no evidence in the literature of a relationship between hippocampal volume and supportive care giving in adults."

      As any decent scientist will tell you, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and it reflects the bias of these researchers that they made no effort to measure the sizes of the hippocampuses of the parents of these children. The paper admits that other research has found moderate heritability in hippocampus size (which flies in the face of the entire premise of the paper), although less than some other regions of the brain.

      March 12, 2012 at 16:12 | Report abuse |
    • Crater

      They did say that the study took into account "a whole range of factors that can affect hippocampal size" - but this article doesn't mention if the study examined heredity. That is an excellent point though, and if they didn't look at it, the study is fatally flawed.

      March 12, 2012 at 16:12 | Report abuse |
  5. Buckhippo

    No doubt that love is necessary on all levels from all levels of caregivers, be they mothers, fathers, grandparents, etc. However, no one lives in a bubble and perhaps the best point to make is that the child must be given a loving environment in which to grow. I'm sure an abused wife loves her child as much as a non-abused wife, but the environment is still toxic and the child will struggle in that case regardless of the love the child gets from his victimized mother. Still, in my opinion, its always better to love, and love hard, than to never love at all.

    March 12, 2012 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Hatixhe

    I like this article. It reminds me of my grandparents who believed the love is as important as food to kids. In today's lifestyle, stressed parents are using all the psychological abuse they can. Most of them without even knowing it. We all are trying to have our kids fit within the cookie cut designed by schools, environment, we all force kids to do things they don't like to do, we all use threats, yes, time-outs are threats and punishments! I don't think it is much hope for future generations if we don't slow down and enjoy our times with kids, friends. Most of americans work way to much to pay attention to their kids. We will have troubled generation to come if not already started.

    March 12, 2012 at 14:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eff

      With all due respect, the generation currently breeding is the one troubled by lack of parental involvement – not the one being born. Children of the 80's suffered much more from rampant consumerism, hyper-focus on work from both parents, gross importance put on appearances, a crazy flux of toxins and artificial by-products, lax daycare standards, school bullying, etc. We did so while those practices were still considered progress.

      At least, now, they're frowned upon and we're slowly going back towards a more intuitive lifestyle.

      March 12, 2012 at 14:52 | Report abuse |
  7. Oompha

    The human brain is so complex, if there is a smaller hippocampi, the brain could make up the difference in other ways to protect itself. Without a doubt the lack of love from parents causes permanent damage, but the child could grow up to be like a three legged dog. Yeah it knows it's missing a limb but adapts to survive. There are many adults walking around with PTSD if the relationship was violent , OCD if the parent was too controlling and verbally abusive, Depression, Addiction, etc..yet they are successful and damaged at the same time. Their brains have managed to deal with stresses in a different way. It would be interesting to see the brains of the children with the smaller hippocampi to see how their brains function under stress. I bet the there's a large variation of how the brains cope.

    March 12, 2012 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Victor

    Can we please define our terms...what is "love and nurturing" in the context of this article? Is it enough to provide a safe environment where a child feels structure and full acceptance or are we talking about something more. I would hate for parents to feel that they are somehow neglecting their child by not hovering around him/her all the time.

    March 12, 2012 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Familyvalues

    Not a scientist, but it would make sense to me that a child would derive the most benefit by having both a mother and father doing the nurturing.

    March 12, 2012 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. GlassHalfFull

    I think we could all use a little more love. What happened to group hugs, kisses goodnight, and celebrating the perseverance of general humanity with each other on a daily basis?

    March 12, 2012 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Peter

    Fathers are getting a bad rap here. I have been a very nurturing Dad and have a great relationship with my 2 teen-agers who also are excelling scholastically.

    March 12, 2012 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. ann west

    🔴 What a LOAD!💩

    March 12, 2012 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Dizzyd

    Eff – truer words were never spoken. Gen X was always the one left to fend for itself.

    March 12, 2012 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jenna

      Gen Xers were also the ones that demanded their own cars, computers, televisions, phones, etc., and refused to get part-time jobs to earn them (and to all of the hard workers: I'm not speaking to you. You were not the norm of this generation).I am a Gen Xer, and I felt incredibly poor because my mother was raising kids and didn't go to work in order to buy me all of the things my friends had. These kids were left to "fend for themselves" because they demanded material gifts over time and attention. Parents only have so many hours in the day.

      March 13, 2012 at 04:53 | Report abuse |
  14. erics

    This really explains a lot. I always wondered why anti depressants never worked very well on me. I must have a small hippocampus because my brain freaks out on everything, i get super depressed and medications dont work diddly on me. Best article in a long time.

    March 12, 2012 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Nurturer

    Argh! Nurture DOES NOT equal love!!! A parent can be very loving, but NOT nurturing, for a variety of reasons. Vice versa, a teacher can be very nurturing, and perhaps even attached to the child, but not necessarily love them. So there's something else going on here, perhaps the ability to teach coping skills? But to equate that to love is completely misleading and mistaken!

    March 12, 2012 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. JJ

    For people who comment on the validity of the study, I'm not necessarily saying the result are or are not valid. But remember that this is an actual scientific research study, with a full length paper that will explain the entire study, every variable, time duration, number of participants. Trust me – what the present in this article is the tip of the iceberg. So before you post a comment belittling the result, maybe you should stop and think how the authors actually dumb down the results so lay-persons can read them....

    March 12, 2012 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Oompha

      I don't think the study is invalid, I think it's fascinating. It is the tip of the iceberg. This issue gets so many responses because many of those kids who didn't have loving parents grow up and can communicate their experiences. Some of the most interesting intelligent sensitive adults I know have come from unloving abusive homes. The subject itself is very complex.

      March 12, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
  17. Bobbi Aussi

    I agree with your premise, but you say you derive your discussion points from "thousands of studies." Let's keep it scientific, and please provide the source references of your "thousands of studies." Which means it has to be at least 1001. Just put a website up so I and others can go to and read the original material that you have "digested" and presented to those of us that don't understand scientific methods and abstracts that are meant to entertain rather than educate. Thanks.

    March 12, 2012 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. anonymous

    Eee cripes... I would think that it's common sense, that a parent would love and nurture their kid; provided you're a good parent to begin with. I'm sure there are many wonderful fathers out there, doing their best to be a role model and hero for their kids, but let's face it, science is biased; hence why mothers were focused on in this study.

    March 12, 2012 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • acs

      I'm guessing it has more to do with experimental design than anything. More moms stay home than dads. Right or wrong, that's the more conventional model. Keeping it to moms only provides an experimental control – who knows, maybe dads that stay home parent differently on average. And they did apparently exclude ALL other caregivers (daycares, preschool, grandparents, etc.). I would be very interested in more nuance – for example, aside from the effect of good fathering, what happens when one parent is nurturing and the other is not? Does the consequence depend on which parent is nurturing?

      March 12, 2012 at 18:06 | Report abuse |
  19. The Flamingo Kid


    Are you really this ignorant? Most mothers are also working full-time in middle class America.

    March 12, 2012 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. The Flamingo Kid

    A father's love is just important to the development of a child (either sex) as a mother's love.

    March 12, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. mugengsr

    That's why these "studies" are so unrealistic. You have to have all the variables...as this one is lacking one of the most important factors, paternal love.

    March 12, 2012 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. kwm

    If you read the scietific paper and previous ones published on this group of kids, fathers were included if they were the primary caregiver. The methods in the paper carefully to refer to 'caregiver' even though the paper talks about 'maternal support'. In a previous publication, the breakdown is reported as 92% biological mothers, 3% biological fathers, and 5% adoptive/foster parents or grandparents. Perhaps someone can clarify whether 'maternal' in a scientific paper is specific to the gender of the caregiver- or just the actions?

    March 12, 2012 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. lana

    If the Dad were loving and supportive of the wife/mom, then the wife/mom would be loving nurturing to the kids.... so we need to know about the Dad/husband in these studies (or lack thereof of a Dad/spouse involvement)....

    Also good point already mentioned, maybe the Mom's hippocampus size has some genetic bearing on her kid's hippocampus.... genetics again. But duh, love is better than abuse/neglect on brain development. Don't blame Mom, it takes two sets of DNA to make a Mom too, remember.

    March 12, 2012 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Thinquer

    A mother's love is not enough to overcome the abuse done by a wicked and then absent father. Don't hang this one on the mothers left behind to clean up the mess. We can only do so much...

    March 12, 2012 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Thinquer

    Having said that, I should have left when the kids were infants and found the real man I have now to raise them. But I stayed for the sake of the kids and the marriage. Mistake.

    March 12, 2012 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Whale

    There at been an increase of 10 time over the past decade of stay at home Dads. It about 1 in every 7 families the father is the caregiver. Census list about 160,000 stay-at-home days. also when many women fall to postpartum depression its up to the father to take care of the wife, kids and supply all the love, care and cleaning.

    March 12, 2012 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. whatthe

    If you're going to tell me you've based this opinion on 1,000 studies please list where to reference them. Hard to believe that actually happened.

    CNN please don't propogate "science" that you have not validated simply because it will go away next news cycle.

    March 12, 2012 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Fiona

    The author's statement that "one generation of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation" and "the world" is so unicorns and lollipops that I am embarrassed for him. I'd like to see him look in the face of one of the surviving mothers of Homs and say that.

    Humans are flawed, the world is complicated, evil exists and ego prevails over altruism, nearly always. That's the way it is and will always be. Some people rise above adversity to love and nurture and accomplish much in their lives, while some who were brought up in loving and wealthy homes are emotionally dead and unambitious. 'twas always so.

    March 12, 2012 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Me Like...

      ...Some Fiona Intellectual Stimulation....LOL

      March 12, 2012 at 16:31 | Report abuse |
  29. Really

    I loved and hugged and nurtured my children as did their father and those around them. I was very aware the need to create a bond and safe and secure feeling for my children. This is plain old destructive to mothers! How to do account for different personalities in children raised in the same house??

    March 12, 2012 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. c s

    Any scientific studies or experiments deal with averages instead of individuals. On average, children who have loving parents grow up to be more stable and healthy people. Individuals on the other hand have a great range of mental health and so a child with unloving parents might grow up to be a loving parent or a monster. Biology and nurturing dance together and the outcome is not always what we want. So I would suggest that all parents try to give their children as much love as possible and hope for the best.

    March 12, 2012 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ridge_Blue

      Amen. These studies report statistical significance, but they don't say much about effect size. Factor X could have a significant effect, but this effect might account for only 0.001% of the variance in the dependent variable. You are exactly correct. My wife and I have four children, whom we have loved and treated equally. Yet, each one is remarkably different from the others, and these differences started appearing early in their lives. Love your kids, spent time with them, and hope for the best. Be there for them no matter what.

      March 13, 2012 at 09:06 | Report abuse |
  31. Chad

    File this in the "No ****, Sherlock" category.

    March 12, 2012 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Sean

    While I find it easy to believe that well-expressed love is absolutely necessary to a child's well-being and mental development, it is by no means sufficient. Please don't add to confusion by implying that it is.

    My 4-yr old daughter is happy, aimiable, cuddly, and greets I or her stay-at-home mother with joy at the door. She loves reading, animals, doing crafts alone or with her mother, chasing with her brother or the girl up the street, and singing. But she always struggled with the spoken word and my wife and I were shocked to discover that at pre-school she ignored other children and was essentially completely non-verbal. My daughter was given the clinical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and no-one can possibly convince me that "a lack of love" is "key" to the social and congitive burden she bears.
    On the other hand, based on how hard I had to work to understand many social aspects that everyone else seemed to "just know", how many years everyone thought my wife or I were just "shy", other explanations carry a lot of weight with me.

    March 12, 2012 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Charlie

    Thank god, finally a good reason to love and nurture my kids, I was worried for a moment there that I was doing it all for nothing....

    March 12, 2012 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Calvin Hobbes

    Okay, so why is Dr. Charles Raison, the author, only an associate professor instead of being fully tenured?

    March 12, 2012 at 23:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ridge_Blue

      Because full professors don't have to do research ; )

      I am surprised the good doctor is not an untenured professor. They are the hungriest.

      March 13, 2012 at 09:09 | Report abuse |
  35. jk

    i love my hippocampus.

    March 13, 2012 at 00:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. howdareI

    That's the problem with this type of stuff, scientists who shouldn't have been scientists in the first place, but were sent to universities eager to fill additional monetized slots to give degrees to those who in the past would have been shunned. Then these twits, armed with a false sense of importance, go out and think they are intelligent. This article is so silly, it's as though this is just some fact that has no reason yet to be discovered and this data was needed in order to bring attention to it. Nope! Try again twits, perhaps its very simple: We know the brain will shut off or under develop areas that are not as important to survival as others. So, let's see, nurturing protecting parents means more risk taking because you are usually protected from the consequences so the creative and intellectual areas of the brain receive more attention because they stimulate desired responses in the parents. And, oh let's see, in a household where survival is more immediate, the brain is going to develop with a far more focussed survival and risk avoidance notion in order to stay out of the way and limit exposure. Duh, what twits! All that money wasted and they didn't need to due a study at all, just think a bit. Oh, wait, they must not have had nurturing mothers...it's all their MOM's fault!

    March 13, 2012 at 00:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. hannah

    I was wondering what about the opposite case where parents overdo the love and pamper the kids to the limit of spoiling.....does it enlarge the Hippocampus?

    March 13, 2012 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Maltrese Falcon

    Generalised hatred towards the patient is the key to Acute Brain Atrophy

    March 13, 2012 at 00:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. LCSWquilter

    Like her father, one of my daughters showed very early signs of depression. I made sure to be especially available and supportive of her, being aware that the simplest aspects of life for her were difficult. I also got her professional help. I can't say that I think any of it made much of a difference because the depression was like a veil around her, clouding her ability to receive nurturing that was offered to her. She's now a functional adult with a doctorate, but the veil of depression remains her biggest challenge, despite still receiving treatment for it. It was a piece of cake raising my other daughter in comparison.

    March 13, 2012 at 00:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Skeptical Mom

    Fabulous! Let's extrapolate from a subjective study of 92 children that Bettelheim was right all along. It's all the refrigerator mom's fault. Dad? Not so much. Bad schools? Socioeconomic, nutrition, toxic exposures? Not so much. It's all those darn mothers who fail to love adequately in a laboratory setting that are the problem. Sheesh. I thought we got past all this like twenty years ago. Is this part of the whole, 'let's take the country back to the 1950's' thing that's going around?

    March 13, 2012 at 00:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Returned

    I have seen this portrade on my own beingness of life and songs left untold. We all see a me or my in all of us. Known left for anything but this. This one thing. Love. For what is all life or of it that we once sought. This idea is above not below. I am not of this likeness. But foresee it in my foretelling of lifes tales. I can not see through the lives once lost to this. But to say only children are able to be and live and not ever go into recovery is a lie. It takes soundness of thought and light though. Sound and love are both daring and contorted to deal this day of said death to self without love. Love withheld is abundantly evil. With a bearing of torture to the psyche. I agree. I have seen it my own mighted mind and words to mention as well. Love will kill off endless bad hopes and left over nightmares. Love is seen by many to others differently. I have seen it in a simple caring vow to touch me me deeper and without hated backended labels. Others see it at home. In bed. With a partner. We all sowe it but to say sexual activity is a loss and no gain is lie in most to all adult relationships. Children need to see kids grow up and have family values taught to them as adulted beings. Not troubled youths hell bent on selling themselves short at the alter. Kids are kids by one reason. We let them see us martyr ourselves as beings of sexual fulfillment and nicities over run our lives. We are left as a civil society meant for fornicated beingness to mean as non-christian lovers. Not to be mean but we are all the societal break down of over 500 peoples decessions of over 5000 years of living beings ago. 5000 years and we still hate ourselves this much. To repeat what should be told to us as not kids but adults. We are the stoping point! We are the able. Not the Cained out few left for dead and malnurished lives to be of pain of mind and lifes loves as well. We can not afford as a society to break down at this or any point. To let allow to fall or follow me without love are all failures at one point or not in a minded society. We as me is this. I have failed at love. But not at kindness. And to say it differently. I should say I have not failed at love and this way is true. Love carries all burdens. I have failed to be loved back. Or refused to see it when it was there. Or to know how to see love in other bodies of souls I can not carry.

    March 13, 2012 at 01:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. j

    Is it hard to show your kids a little loving from time to time, regardless if you're Mama or Daddy?? We bring these little lives into the world, the least we can do as parents is love them...Unfortunately, some parents have other agendas but for the most part, I believe all parents love their kids...I would think whether it be scientific or just opinion, LOVE MATTERS...

    March 13, 2012 at 02:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Sean

    I would like to see the same study done with fathers this time. I suspect, given my own observations, that the source of love and nurturing is largely irrelevant, as long as it comes from a respected and authoritative figure, the child will respond. I'd like to see some data that answers that hypothesis.

    March 13, 2012 at 02:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Daniel Richard Minnich D.R.M.

    I agere that God made us just right from the start. God makes ALL and ALL just right to his ourn and none will eavll know!. SO I bleve and have fathe in God Amen of us all and all in GOD!!..

    March 13, 2012 at 02:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Kate

    My mother was affectionate with my 3 siblings and I until about the age of 1. She loves babies but something happens and she just can't be affectionate beyond that time. Most of us have struggled with depression and other problems but the interesting thing is that each one of us has been more loving and nurturing towards our own children. Growing up I never saw my mother kiss or hug any of us and we definitely didn't feel loved. Since I've become a mother I hug and kiss my toddler all day long and it's been the best therapy I could have ever received, certainly better than any antidepressant. For those who commented about fatherly love not being mentioned here, isn't it obvious that receiving affection/love from both parents equally would be better for the child?

    March 13, 2012 at 03:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Laura

    It takes a village to raise children. When the going gets tough the woman get going and the men come home from their full time job to put their feet up and lay around on their ass. Not all men but most of them. To the man that told a woman on here she probably spends money while her husband pays uncle sam. What the hell do you think stay a home mothers do all day? Working their ass off too only they don't get paid. Moms and Dads and or single Dads and Moms work 24-7 plus hours. I am a Mom and never have time to watch tv. Although my husband and children are true gifts from God. Men give us woman credit.

    March 13, 2012 at 04:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • blackperson3

      it does NOT take a village, it takes two quality parents who use good judgement and common sense. Take your "village" nonsense to the jungle where it belongs!

      March 13, 2012 at 04:44 | Report abuse |
    • ES71

      Laura, don't count on anyone understanding it, it is just the way it is. Women never get credit. Iti s like we are robots placed on earth to provide comfort for everyone else. I don't even get upset about it. Other people simply don't see it. They watch you work all day long from 6AM to 11PM, but they just think this is the way it is and that is what you chose. Nobody forced you or me to marry and have kids.
      In my case my husband is a wonderful person, but he travels full -time. I work, take care of kids, school, docotor appointment, the house, everything else. This is what expected of me. I could choose not to work to make it easier but that would hurt us all financially and I wouldn't be able to return to the same high paying job after my kids grow up.

      March 13, 2012 at 10:51 | Report abuse |
  47. blackperson3

    this would explain why black-teen mothers with several kids while still a teen, produces so many soulless criminals and unintelligent angry beings. The level of parenting skills among this group is at an all time low. If people would wait to have kids until they are 25 or older and finish high school. These two very simple things would drastically improved our society, and are very reasonable.

    March 13, 2012 at 04:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Dawn

    I wonder though, is there any correlation between the size of the hippocampus of the mother and her ability/propensity to nurture? And if so, could there be a genetic factor in the size of it that makes both sides of the parent/child equation more prone to and receptive of love and nurturing?

    March 13, 2012 at 04:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Lerxst

    A father's love is indeed just as important as a mother's love. There are countless full time, stay at home dads these days. Reversal of traditional roles is very real in today's world. A man can do anything a woman does except breastfeed!

    March 13, 2012 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Amanda

    this article is sloppy and the author is jumping to conclusions not supported by those studies, his little disclaimer towards the end does nothing really to change the damage of such statements as "one generation of deeply loving parents" is all we need to change the world. Cognitive researchers/developmental scientists all agree that parental warmth/attachment affects how we deal with life is not the same as blaming parenting for psychological and neurological problems such as autism.
    As a parent of a child with autism as well as an advocate I can tell you that these parents are not short on love...

    March 13, 2012 at 05:17 | Report abuse | Reply
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