Sustaining the Social Brain Throughout Life

Louis Cozolino

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Although psychotherapists spend most of our time focusing on the profound impact of early nurturance on the shaping of the social brain, we also know that neural circuits retain experience— dependent plasticity throughout life, especially in response to close relationships. Research has shown a broad tendency for partners with insecure attachment to develop increasingly secure patterns when paired with someone who is securely attached. Other studies have shown the healing value of mentors, teachers, and other adults for children who have been neglected and abused. Even “hardened” criminals have been known to be softened by caring relationships. The lifelong plasticity in attachment circuitry makes sense given our need to attach and reattach to new people, groups, and social situations as we grow older. Adult relationships provide us with a second, third, and fourth chance of forming secure attachments.
Secure attachments first build and then maintain the health of the social brain. While supporting the healthy development of the body, and our physical well-being. When a grandparent interacts with a grandchild in a caring and nurturing way, both of their brains are engaged in life-sustaining activity. While the grandparent is triggering the growth of new neurons, receptor cells, and complex neural connections in his grandchild, the grandchild in turn, is stimulating the release of oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine in the grandparent, having a similar salubrious effect on his health…