Stress and the Neurobiological bond between primary caregiver and child

Assignment – Discussion – Developmental Psychology: Develop and post a brief annotated bibliography.  Using 7th Edition APA style, present three article references from peer-reviewed journals in the field of Developmental Psychology.  The articles that you select should have been published within the last 5 years.  They can be on any topic, as long as it is related to development. Annotate each of your 3 references, giving a brief summary of the reference, concluding with a statement indicating why you found it interesting or important. Each reference/summary should be about one page, making your paper a total of 3 pages.

Annotated Bibliography

The first two studies, conducted by Lee et al. (2017) and Santamaria et al. (2020), examine the neurobiological bond between the primary caregiver and the child, while the third study, conducted by Crouch et al. (2021), investigates the relationship between childhood stress and trauma and the prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Overall, I am curious to learn more about whether and how the primary caregiver’s and child’s brains are neurally connected, and how this connection may contribute to a child’s nervous system being affected by parental stress, potentially making the child more vulnerable to developing ADHD.

Neural Attunement Between Parent and Child measured using fMRI

Lee et al. (2017) used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that the emotional bond between children and parents occurs at a deep neural level and that similarities in neural maps, or neural connectomes as they are also known, appear to be adaptive, with a child’s connectome forming over time as a result of accumulated shared social and emotional experiences with their primary caregiver. Furthermore, they demonstrated that similarities in neural connections in the brain of primary care-giver and child causes them to be more emotionally synchronous throughout the day. Additionally, it is suggested that emotional synchrony benefits children’s emotional competence, as well as emotional well-being in adolescence.

Numerous aspects of this article fascinate me. To begin, Lee et al. discovered that not all parent-child dyads are necessarily synchronized on neural or emotional levels. Certain families were discovered to be highly synchronized, while others were found to be more asynchronous. The quality of the relationship between the primary caregiver and the child appears to be a critical factor, implying that rapport between primary caregiver and child is a necessary component of emotional synchrony.

This makes me think about the impact that parents’ stress and a lack of time to spend with their child can have on their child’s development of emotional competence and well-being. I used to work with children diagnosed with ADHD, measuring their brain waves. This quite often revealed that the parents’ brain waves exhibited an “ADHD profile.” A regularly discussed possibility was that the parent’s brain waves were influencing the child’s brain waves via what we referred to as limbic or sympathetic resonance. This could imply that the stressed brain of the parent activated the stress response in the child’s brain, as Lee et al’s article appears to imply to some extent. However, while we used electroencephalography (EEG) to observe this influence, Lee and colleagues used fMRI to show that it is occurring at a deeper level, related to the actual structure of neurons connecting through synapses in the brain.

Neural Attunement Between Parent and Child measured using EEG

To gain a better understanding of the neural connection between parent and child, let us examine a study by Santamaria et al. (2020), which used EEG to determine the synchrony of alpha brain waves between mother and child at frequencies ranging from 6 to 9 Hz in infants to 8 to 13 Hz in adults. This study discovered that positive interaction between mother and infant, with frequent eye contact, enhanced the ability of both mother and child’s brains to function as a single network, allowing information to be exchanged more efficiently between the two. Furthermore, when mothers and babies interacted, their brainwaves synchronized more when the mother was in a positive emotional state, while the opposite happened when the mother was in a negative emotional state. According to social referencing research, infants who observe their mothers in a negative emotional state interact less with their toys (Gunnar & Stone, 1984; Hornik et al., 1987) and are less friendly to strangers (Feinman & Roberts, 1986), indicating that they are not in an exploratory mode but rather are seeking safety. This goes hand in hand with the result in the study of Santamaria et al. (2020), which also suggest that depression in mothers can have a negative impact on the neural connection between mother and infant, resulting in the child’s ability to learn is weakened.

To conclude this article, the findings of Santamaria et al. (2020) confirm my earlier view that the brains of parent and child can function as a single unit and, more importantly, show that the child’s brain is influenced by the mother rather than vice versa. It is interesting, but also a little sad, that children of depressed mothers have a harder time developing naturally, for example, because the mother has less energy to fully engage with her child, and it becomes harder for the child to emotionally co-regulate with the parent when their brains are less synchronized. As a result, the child’s stress response is likely to be activated, and the child spends more time seeking safety than playing, exploring, and learning about the world.

A Link Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and ADHD Diagnosis

After reading two articles highlighting the neural connections between the brains of parents and children, I was curious to learn more about a possible link between childhood stress and a diagnosis of ADHD in children. It appeared as though such a connection existed in my practice. For instance, it was fairly common for children diagnosed with ADHD to have experienced stress at home, such as their parents going through a difficult divorce or their parents physically or verbally abusing them or each other on a regular basis.

A study by Crouch et al. (2021) examined not only the association between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and ADHD diagnosis, as previous research had done (Brown et al., 2016; Schickedanz et al., 2018), but also which specific child and household factors may have the greatest influence on this association. More precisely, they discovered that children with ADHD had three times the prevalence of ACE scores of four or more than children without the disorder. The most common ACEs were parental separation/divorce (41.2 percent in the ADHD group versus 24.2 percent in the control group), parental death (6.0 percent versus 3.4 percent), incarcerated family member (17.8 percent versus 6.9 percent), witnessing violence in the home (13.6 percent versus 5.2 percent), witnessing violence in the neighborhood (10.5 percent versus 3.7 percent), mental illness in the home (18.8 percent versus 6.8 percent), substance abuse in the home (18.3 percent versus 7.7 percent), and racial or ethnic maltreatment (7.8 percent versus 4.0 percent). Finally, the ACEs most strongly associated with more severe ADHD appeared to be an incarcerated family member, witnessing violence at home or in the neighborhood, and substance abuse in the home, implying that the severity of the ACE influences the severity of ADHD.

In conclusion to these three articles, I am intrigued to learn more about this subject, and in particular, I hope that additional research is conducted on a possible link between the nervous system of a parent with an active stress response and the nervous system of the child. While conducting research on the Internet, including scientific databases, I discovered that this subject can be somewhat controversial, with some parents feeling blamed for their child’s ADHD. My interest, on the other hand, is diametrically opposed. Rather than blaming the parents, I am more interested in better understanding the underlying dynamics, as I believe this will increase our children’s chances of naturally developing and thus living a life of harmony and fulfillment.


Brown, Brown, S. N., Briggs, R. D., Germán, M., Belamarich, P. F., & Oyeku, S. O. (2016). Associations Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and ADHD Diagnosis and Severity. Academic Pediatrics, 17(4), 349–355.

Crouch, Radcliff, E., Bennett, K. J., Brown, M. J., & Hung, P. (2021). Examining the Relationship Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and ADHD Diagnosis and Severity. Academic Pediatrics, 21(8), 1388–1394.

Gunnar, M.R. & Stone, C. (1984). The effects of positive maternal affect on infant responses to pleasant, ambiguous, and fear-provoking toys. Child Development, 55(4), 1231-126.

Hornik, R., Risenhoover, N., & Gunnar, M.R. (1987). The effects of maternal positive, neutral, and negative affective communications on infant responses to new toys. Child Development, 58(4), 937-944.

Lee, Miernicki, M. E., & Telzer, E. H. (2017). Families that fire together smile together: Resting state connectome similarity and daily emotional synchrony in parent-child dyads. NeuroImage, 152, 31–37.

Santamaria, Noreika, V., Georgieva, S., Clackson, K., Wass, S., & Leong, V. (2020). Emotional valence modulates the topology of the parent-infant inter-brain network. NeuroImage, 207, 116341–116341.

Schickedanz, Halfon, N., Sastry, N., & Chung, P. J. (2018). Parents’ Adverse Childhood Experiences and Their Children’s Behavioral Health Problems. Pediatrics, 142(2), e20180023.

No Comments

Post a Comment