Strong evidence now shows that human and animal parenting share many nervous system mechanisms. This is the conclusion of Yerkes National Primate Research Center researchers Larry Young, PhD, and James Rilling, PhD, in their review article about the biology of mammalian parenting, published in this week's issue of Science. Better understanding this biology could lead to improved social development, benefitting generations of humans and animals to come.
In their article, Young and Rilling review the biological mechanisms governing a shift in mammals' parental motivation that begins with aversion and transforms into irresistible attraction after giving birth. They say the same molecules that prepare the uterus for pregnancy, stimulate milk production and initiate labor also activate specific neural pathways to motivate parents to nurture, bond with and protect their offspring.
According to Young, "We have learned a tremendous amount about the specific hormonal and brain mechanisms regulating parental behavior and how parental nurturing influences the development of the offspring brain by using animal models, and many of these same mechanisms influence human parenting behavior as well."
Young is division chief of Behavioral Neuroscience and Psychiatric Disorders at the Yerkes Research Center, director of the Center for Translational Social Neuroscience at Emory, a William P. Timmie professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Emory's School of Medicine and author of The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction, which also summarizes the parallels between brain mechanisms regulating sexual and parenting behaviors in animals and humans.
Rilling, who is a Yerkes researcher and an associate professor in Emory's Department of Anthropology, adds, "The human brain has mechanisms in place to support parent-child bonding, and when functioning properly, these mechanisms facilitate the development of secu
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Emory Health Sciences