Project BrainHeart

Illustrated brain development research


“”Children who don’t get consistent, physical affection or the chance to build loving bonds simply don’t receive the patterned, repetitive stimulation necessary to properly build the systems in the brain that connect reward, pleasure, and human-to-human interactions.“” – Dr Bruce D Perry

The brain of an infant needs at least one mature brain to latch on to. It is through this close symbiosis that it begins to develop. This latching on, if it happens as a secure attachment relationship with at least one caring adult, provides safety and a calm base from which to explore the world. Attachment studies around the world confirm that even when taking into account cultural differences:

  1. All infants will become attached to one or more care-givers, if given the opportunity (universality)
  2. The majority of them will become securely attached, in environments that are not threatening to health and survival (normativity)
  3. Secure attachments result from sensitive and prompt response on the part of caregivers to the infant’s signals (sensitivity)
  4. Secure attachments lead to positive child outcomes (competence)

How does a secure attachment relationship develop?

We are born with an innate instinct to bond, a curiosity about the world, and a certain sensitivity to stressors called ‘reactivity’. The relationship that we establish with our first caregivers tunes up or down that reactivity, and thus impacts the safety we feel in exploring the world.

Mary Ainsworth, who studied thousands of one-year olds in a classic experiment called the Strange Situation describes the attuned relationship as: timely, accurate, positive, and collaborative.

  • When all four are present, the connection leads to a secure attachment.
  • When the caregiver is unavailable or inadequate in their response, the connection leads to an avoidant attachment, where the child needs more than what they are getting.
  • When the caregiver is negative or intrusive in their response, the connection leads to an anxious or fearful attachment.
  • If the caregiver’s behavior is unpredictable this can lead to disorganized attachment, where a child is in a state of confusion and distress.

“Attachment can be understood as how parents have come to integrate their own inner self-awareness with their relationship with their children – honoring differences, cultivating [connection]” – Daniel J. Siegel

Research shows that people who in infancy could not latch on to a reliable mature carer – those who grew up in chaotic, violent, abusive or neglectful environments – incur sustained, major stress levels that curb the brain’s development.  “Like people who learn a foreign language later in life, they will never speak the language of love without an accent.


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