Neuroscience 'used and abused'

March 19, 2014, University of Kent

Influential policy-informing 'evidence' that children's brains are irreversibly 'sculpted' by parental care is based on questionable evidence.

The researchers warn that the success that advocates of 'brain-based' parenting have had in influencing could undermine parent-child relationships.

The study identified that although there is a lack of scientific foundation to many of the claims of 'brain-based' parenting, the idea that years 0-3 are neurologically critical is now repeated in documents and has been integrated into for early-years workers.

Dr Jan Macvarish, a Research Fellow at Kent's Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, analysed the policy literature for the study.

She said: 'What we found was that although the claims purporting to be based on neuroscience are very questionable, they are continually repeated in policy documents and are now integrated into the professional training of health visitors and other early years workers. "Brain claims" entered a policy environment which was already convinced that parents are to blame for numerous social problems, from poverty to mental illness.

'The idea that these entrenched problems will be solved by parents being more attentive to their children's brains is risible. Although aimed at strengthening the parent-child relationships, these kinds of policies risk undermining parents' self-confidence by suggesting that "science" rather than the parent knows best.'

The study highlights that mothers, in particular, are told that if they are stressed while pregnant or suffer postnatal depression, they will harm their baby's brain.

'This dubious information is highly unlikely to alleviate stress or depression but rather more likely to increase parental anxiety,' said Dr Macvarish. 'Parents are also told they must cuddle, talk and sing to their babies to build better brains. But these are all things parents do, and have always done, because they love their babies.

'Telling these acts of love are important because they are 'brain-building' inevitably raises the question of how much cuddling, talking and singing is enough? Such claims also put power in the hands of 'parenting experts' and ultimately risk making parenting a biologically important but emotionally joyless experience.'

Explore further: New article reveals why people with depression may struggle with parenthood

More information: The key findings will be presented at a conference on 28 March. See: blogs.kent.ac.uk/parentingcult … -final-programme.pdf

Related Stories

New article reveals why people with depression may struggle with parenthood

October 15, 2013
An article by researchers at the University of Exeter has shed light on the link between depression and poor parenting. The article identifies the symptoms of depression that are likely to cause difficulties with parenting. ...

Group training improves parenting skills, child behavior

November 8, 2013
(HealthDay)—Group training delivered to parents of toddlers in pediatric office settings improves parenting skills and reduces child disruptive behaviors, according to research published online Nov. 4 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Can putting your child before yourself make you a happier person?

October 31, 2013
While popular media often depicts highly-involved parents negatively as "helicopter parents" or "tiger moms, how does placing one's children at the center of family life really affect parental well-being? New research published ...

How family conflict affects children

May 8, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) reveals why some children are badly affected by negative family conflicts while other children survive without significant problems.

The parenthood paradox: Certain parenting beliefs are detrimental to mothers' mental health

July 5, 2012
Does being an intense mother make women unhappy? According to a new study by Kathryn Rizzo and colleagues, from the University of Mary Washington in the US, women who believe in intensive parenting - i.e., that women are ...

Spanking babies is surprisingly common

March 11, 2014
The same hands that parents use to lovingly feed, clothe and bathe their babies are also commonly used to spank their bundles of joy.

Recommended for you

New neuron-like cells allow investigation into synthesis of vital cellular components

January 22, 2018
Neuron-like cells created from a readily available cell line have allowed researchers to investigate how the human brain makes a metabolic building block essential for the survival of all living organisms. A team led by researchers ...

Finding unravels nature of cognitive inflexibility in fragile X syndrome

January 22, 2018
Mice with the genetic defect that causes fragile X syndrome (FXS) learn and remember normally, but show an inability to learn new information that contradicts what they initially learned, shows a new study by a team of neuroscientists. ...

Epilepsy linked to brain volume and thickness differences

January 22, 2018
Epilepsy is associated with thickness and volume differences in the grey matter of several brain regions, according to new research led by UCL and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.