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This blog is to critically introduce, and contextualise, new research findings from developmental research, neuroscience, attachment theory  and other areas of psychology that are topical or are likely to whet the appetite of  anyone interested. The aim is to discuss research which will feel relevant and which might even, if lucky, make a differenc...e to how we approach our work or other areas of our lives. More

Again, good parenting changes children’s brains and predicts better health later in life

In recent years there has been a mass of research pointing to how nurturing and attuned parenting is innoculatory for later physical as well as mental health. Three studies that have come out recently again back this up with yet more evidence.

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IQ , breast-feeding and hot housing

An interesting new study by Maria Iacovou, and colleagues from Essex and Oxford Universities, strongly suggests that babies who are fed on demand perform better academically than their counterparts who are fed according to  a strictly timed schedule. For example they scored 4 or 5 points higher on IQ tests at aged 8. This was a large-scale study of over 10,000 babies and so these results not to be sniffed at, and we might usefully speculate about why these effects were seen. An obvious answer is that babies who are fed on demand are having an experience of being sensitively attuned to, empathised with and understood, which in turn leads to developing a strong sense of agency, a belief that they have some control over their destinies and that significant others will be responsive to them. These are all effects also seen in securely attached children, who incidentally also tend to have higher IQ’s. One might assume that demand fed babies are likely to be less passive than those fed on strict schedules. They are also harder work for the parents, as this study in fact attests to, and much more emotionally demanding. The mothers who fed on demand scored lower on most of the wellbeing measures used. This is quite a conflict and another sign of how the interests of mothers and babies are by no means identical, an idea most rigorously developed by Robert Trivers’ ‘parent-offspring conflict’.

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The good in gossip and shaming

I have been wondering for a while whether we have lost as well as gained something from the way we as a society no longer do ‘shaming’ in the way some cultures have in the past. Ok we did give Murdoch a bit of a run for his money over phone-tapping and there has been some pressure on bankers, but compared to what used to happen, this is rather mild. I suspect for most if us the public shaming by shaving the heads of French women who consorted with Nazis would be seen as bad taste now. We do not tattoo people who have committee crimes or make them wear special clothes anymore. We have the police, and judges and politicians to theoretically enforce the law and what is right and wrong.

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The 'early' in early intervention means during pregnancy: The research that is a killjoy for pregnant mums

One of the difficulties with so much of the developmental research is that it can be used to bash parents, and especially mothers. This is a real shame. A difficulty is that we cannot ignore some of the research findings either, or else we are storing up serious problems. Typical is the research continually coming out about just how fragile the developing foetus is and how vulnerable it is to insults of various kinds. One of the latest studies has shown that taking ecstasy (MDMA)  in pregnancy can be surprisingly damaging to the unborn baby. The study, published in Neurotoxicology and Teratology by researchers from the University of East London,  suggested that babies exposed to ecstasy in utero had poorer co-ordination and reached other developmental milestones later, such as delays in hand-eye coordination and sitting up, and there is a suggestion that the baby’s nervous system is negatively affected. One issue that is known about is how ecstasy depletes the levels of the hormone serotonin that is so vital in many ways.

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Wealth and power make people less moral

People worried about the way an unbridled market led society can affect morality might want to take note of a new study from the University of Berkeley which seems to show very clearly that those higher up the pecking order, in social class and economic terms, basically are less moral. The diminished ethics is in large part driven by seeing greed as favourable, argues one of the main researchers, Paul Piff, who found that believing that greed is good was the best predictor of poor behaviour. Such studies are providing even more evidence of the deleterious effects of inequality on society. The study of over 1000 people was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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