Dr. Louis Cozolino conveys that studying the brain alone does not provide a comprehensive analysis of human relationships, and social aspects must also be considered. “Researchers in neurobiology and neuroscience study the brain in scanners and on dissection tables but neglect the fact that the brain evolved to function within a matrix of other brains” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 3). Cozolino (2014) has provided convincing evidence to support the fact that our health is directly related to the quality of social contact and care we receive:
Our brain biology and health are greatly affected by stimulating social interactions with others. We need other people to care about us, to help us feel secure, and to figure out our life’s purpose.
According to the theory of evolution, our social brains evolve to enhance survival as a result of natural selection. Also, we find safety in numbers and rely on task specialization to optimize our natural talents such as: hunting, gathering, and caretaking (Cozolino, 2014, p. 5). Cozolino (2014) stated as infants our survival is based solely on the inherited abilities of our caregivers, and our brain is shaped according to our interactions with them during childhood (p. 6). Since our behavior patterns for life our set according to the quality of upbringing we receive, parents and caregivers need to prioritize their health and the demands of life. “In contemporary society the real challenges are multitasking, balancing the demands of work and family, managing information, and coping with stress. We need to maintain perspective, pick our battles carefully” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 7). Our lives are demanding and there simply is not enough time to accomplish everything, so we must remain mindful in prioritizing our responsibilities. “When a parent abuses, neglects, or abandons a child, the parent is communicating to the child that he or she is less fit. Consequently, the child’s brain may become shaped in ways that do not support his or her long-term survival” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 7). When parents prioritized the demands of life over adequately nurturing their children they negatively affect the shaping of their child’s brain, which impacts the child’s behavior long-term and ultimately their ability to survive.
A few years ago Dr. Cozolino received a call from Shelly, a mother of a 3-year-old boy, name Dylan. Shelly reported Dylan had become aggressive towards some of his classmates in school and her husband Chet was dying of cancer. Chet chose to remain distant from Dylan because he knew that he would be dying soon and didn’t want Dylan to become attached to him. He stated “It will be easier for Dylan if he learns not to love me” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 8). During session Dr. Cozolino noticed Dylan hiding from him and not wanting to make eye contact. Cozolino was also unsuccessful in getting Dylan to play toys with him and “wondered if, perhaps, he was showing me how it felt to be rejected and to play alone” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 8). In an attempt to get Dylan to engage with him, he used a toy train and pushed it towards the end of the track, and said “I’m running out of track! What am I going to do?” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 9). This approach worked as “Dylan darted from his hiding place, ran to the toy chest, picked out a piece of track, attached it to the existing track, and shot back behind his chair” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 9). He kept playing this scenario and each time Dylan would run to save the train and tap Cozolino on the back. As Dylan continued to run back and forth between the train and his hiding place his taps on the back turned into longer durations of contact. Eventually Dylan comfortably sat on Cozolino’s lap and began to open up. He speculated that “Allowing him to save the train gave Dylan the chance to demonstrate his competence and value…When he finally felt safe he wanted sustained physical and verbal contact” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 9). Dylan could sense his mother was hiding some important facts from him which made him feel insecure, unsafe, and insignificant. These feelings of deprivation manifested his emotions of anger. Dr. Cozolino knew that he needed to address Dylan’s father, Chet.
When Dr. Cozolino first visited Chet at his hospital bed, he was willing to talking with a therapist. After informing Chet of what he discovered during his sessions with Dylan, Chet became sad which quick turned towards anger. The anger is what kept him silent and he really needed to “say good-bye to his family, his friends, and Dylan” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 10). From this point forward Chet began “to play with Dylan, to reminisce with his wife, and to talk about her future without him” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 10). This formed an incredible bond and relationship between his family and Dr. Cozolino.
These relationships as outlined in Dylan’s and Chet’s experiences above change the functioning of the brain. These neuropathway changes as a result of our experiences, need to be considered in addition to studying it from a pure biological perspective. How will Dylan’s experiences with his passing father affect the shape of his brain as he develops? Will he have problems bonding to others? “What kind of friend, husband, and father will he become? Will he panic at any sign of rejection? Will he spend his life searching for a father figure in a coach, teacher, or boss?” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 12). Interpersonal biology is the study of he we become dysregulated mentally and the journey to get our emotions back in balance. “It is also the story of how genes and environments interact to produce who are and how we create each other through relationships” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 12). Relationships or intimacy root from the evolutional development of the brain, and through parenting, friendship, and love.
The human brain is the most complex organ in the universe, therefore many factors must be considered when trying to understand it. These factors range from biology to an individual’s life experiences beginning at birth. I agree that biology and neuroscience alone cannot define the human personality and an individual’s behavior. Psychologist must go deeper and understand the social experiences and environmental factors that shape the developing brain. Intimate relationships with friends, family, and most importantly our parents form our personality and behavior throughout life. I was intrigued that even as infants we need close human interaction to survive, “In response to a high number of infant deaths, physicians attempted at keeping to keep children safe from infectious disease by separating them from one another… Deaths continued until children were properly nurtured and allowed to interact” (Cozolino, 2014, p. 4). Also, as infants, the basis for our personality and behavior is formed by our experiences with our parents. According to Cozolino (2014), “our brain is shaped according to our interactions when them during childhood” (p. 6).
As Dr. Cozolino uncovered the feelings of abandonment and insignificance within Dylan, it became clear how important the nurturing and validation of our children really is. Achieving balance in all of our life’s responsibilities and prioritizing quality parenthood is a key point in establishing lasting mental health in our children. The power of a mental health therapist was also very encouraging in seeing how Dr. Cozolino was able to influence Chet, changing his behavior from distancing to embracing his family.
Cozolino, L. (2014). The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing social brain (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.