The Developing Mind – How Relationships and the Brain Interact

How important are family and friends in shaping our minds, from the time we are born and throughout our lives?  Can you explain why one child can be painfully shy and have difficulty socialising even within the family while another child is outspoken?

These questions bring to mind the concept of Nature versus Nurture. Did we become who we are because of our upbringing or are we just born that way?  Those who support the Nature argument believe that we are born with a set brain and personality and that we move through life with what we had at birth. Nurture proponents, however, believe that the accumulations of experiences have a stronger effect on our personality.

The validity of Nature versus Nurture is just one of the areas addressed by Daniel J. Siegel. In his book, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are., Siegel suggests that the brain is plastic, and that it can change and adapt as we move through life.

Early experience shapes the structure and the function of the brain, building the architecture of the brain.  Healthy attachments to parents or early caregivers can assist with emotional intelligence and memory recall.

Not all encounters with the world affect us equally. Studies have shown that if the brain recognises an emotion or event as meaningful, it can be recalled in the future. Our emotions direct the flow of energy which is needed to process information.

There is recognition that the brain can be altered by the health of our relationships with family and friends. Our personal relationships as adults can affect our state of mind, and can be linked to our risk of depression.

What are the tools we could use as adults to assist with good brain health?

Journal writing and intimate conversations with others have a powerful organizing effect on the mind. In both written and verbal communication, we can manage our emotions and make sense of the world. Solitude is also considered an essential experience to give the mind time to process and organise. The art of mindfulness, and focusing on the present, can allow the brain time and space to accommodate memory, and recognise current emotions.

To hear more about Dr. Siegel’s perspectives on mindfulness, relationships and the cultivation of well-being, view his Ted Talk here.