The mother as hidden regulator

  • Annie Panzer Departement Fisiologie, Universiteit van Pretoria
  • Margaretha Viljoen Departement Fisiologie, Universiteit van Pretoria

Abstract

A human baby is born with a decidedly immature brain, and is absolutely dependent on an intense relationship with its mother (or primary caregiver) for brain maturation. In the short term, maternal regulation contributes to a more joyful baby, while in the long term it leads to the internalisation and development of self-regulatory capabilities. The ability to regulate one’s own emotional states is based on the development of right orbitofrontal dominance of dual limbic circuits, i.e. the excitatory sympathetic ventral tegmental circuit, and the inhibitory parasympathetic lateral tegmental circuit. Thus the child will be able to calm down after nigh overwhelming emotions by activating the parasympathetic system, but also to bounce back after setbacks by activating the sympathetic system. The mother influences the parcellation of the two limbic systems and thus the permanent excitation-inhibition autonomic balance of its prefrontal regulatory system. Repeated unregulated emotional states in the practicing period from 12-18 months pave the way for various psychological and psychiatric disorders in adulthood. It is worrisome that many children pass through this critical time in nursery schools, where a shortage of adult staff may lead to the scenario where a child’s emotions are repeatedly not modulated, with dire consequences for the internalisation of its future self-regulating capabilities.

Published
2003-09-26
Section
Original Research