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Video:What Is the Theory on Nurture?

with Max McDowell

The theory on nurture in developmental science emphasizes the importance of social interaction between the mother and the newborn baby for normal development. Learn more about the studies behind the theory of nurture.See Transcript

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Transcript:What Is the Theory on Nurture?

My name is Max McDowell, I am a Jungian psychoanalyst in New York City and in a previous career I was a molecular biologist and I did research at several universities in molecular biology. I'm going to be talking today about the Theory of Nurture for About.com.

Nurture Begins in the Womb

Nurture begins for a baby certainly before birth in the womb but critical things begin to happen as soon as the baby is born and one of the most critical very early events is that when a baby is born the eyes are functioning but they can only focus at a certain distance. And it turns out that that distance is exactly the distance between the baby's eyes when the baby is breastfeeding, and the mother's eyes when the mother is looking down at the baby as the baby feeds. So the baby is pre-designed to make eye contact with the mother. The mother stares at the baby, the baby stares at the mother and the baby begins to learn to recognize the mother's eyes and form an eye contact relationship with the mother.

Early Eye Contact Supports the Nurture Theory

When the baby actually makes discernible eye contact with the mother in a few weeks, the mother is stimulated by that eye contact to play vivaciously with the baby because the mother gets a big charge out of realizing that the baby is actually looking at her eyes and seeing them. So this stimulates the mother to play with the baby. So that sets up a very dynamic positive feedback of exchange between baby and mother in which crucial socialization occurs in the first weeks and months of the baby's life.

Social Interaction is Important for Development

All of the games that mothers play with their babies, the peekaboo, the singing to the baby, the hiding their face, the smiling: all of those games that mother and infant play spontaneously and laugh and have so much fun with – they are all oriented around eye contact. If eye contact is interrupted at a very early stage, then that subsequent elaborate pyramid of other games and other interactions which can develop may not get started or may not get started with sufficient vigor and then the child may not learn to respond affectionately, may not learn to have empathy, may not learn that the mother is a separate being with separate feelings.

Those kind of learning processes take place in the first year of life through the games that mother and baby play with each other. When that early learning is blocked, then all kinds of social behaviors can be interrupted, and all kinds of subsequent learning, including intellectual learning can be interrupted.

I'm Max McDowell and I've given you a few thoughts about the theory of nurture for About.com, and to learn more about this subject you can visit About.com.

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