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Motherhood, Empathy and Evil

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Motherhood and the brain.

From MyHealthNewsDaily and Yahoo!News:

In a 2009 study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers looked at two groups of mothers, dividing them based on how attached they felt to their own mothers.

They found both groups responded differently to their infant’s faces.

For mother’s with ‘secure’ attachment, we found that both happy and sad infant faces produced a reward signal in their brain,” Strathearn said. But moms with an “insecure” attachment [to their own mothers] didn’t show the same brain response. When they saw their baby cry, part of the brain that is linked with pain unfairness or disgust became activated.

“Biologically, there seems to be a pattern that is repeated from one generation to the next,” Strathearn said.

Yeah. So if those pain, unfairness, or disgust parts of the brain are activated what are the chances that it shows up on the mom’s face? Even if she knows intellectually that it’s not “motherly”?

Now that we know this, though, maybe there will be some ways of helping prospective mothers to overcome the legacy?

Empathy and Evil

Simon Baron-Cohen is a psychologist well-known for his studies of autism. He has a 2011 book called The Science of Evil. He cites evidence for areas of the brain, which he calls the empathy circuit, where activity is abnormally low in people with autism as well as borderline, narcissistic, and antisocial personality disorders.

He also distinguishes between two major components of empathy: recognition and response. And with regard to insecure attachments he says:

Peter Fonagy . . . argues that during the attachment relationship the infant tries to ‘mentalize’ the caregiver’s mind. The child’s relationship with his or her parents is the crucible for learning about other people. The child imagines not only what their mother is thinking or feeling about people and things in the immediate environment but also, more importantly, what their mother is thinking or feeling about them. Fonagy argues that the development of empathy proceeds well only if it is safe for the child to imagine another person’s thoughts and feelings.

But if, when you mentalize, you imagine that your mother hates you or wishes you didn’t exist, this could derail the development of empathy. . .

Not to mention the sense of self?

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