Gabor Maté

“The areas of the cortex responsible for attention and self-regulation develop in response to the emotional interaction with the person whom we may call the mothering figure. Usually this is the birth mother, but it may be another person, male or female, depending on circumstances.

The right hemisphere of the mother’s brain, the side where our unconscious emotions reside, programs the infant’s right hemisphere. In the early months, the most important communications between mother and infant are unconscious ones. Incapable of deciphering the meaning of words, the infant receives messages that are purely emotional. They are conveyed by the mother’s gaze, her tone of voice and her body language, all of which reflect her unconscious internal emotional environment.

Anything that threatens the mother’s emotional security may disrupt the developing electrical wiring and chemical supplies of the infant brain’s emotion-regulating and attention-allocating systems. Within minutes following birth, the mother’s odors stimulate the branching of millions of nerve cells in the newborn’s brain. A six-day-old infant can already distinguish the scent of his mother from that of other women.

Later on, visual inputs associated with emotions gradually take over as the major influences. By two to seven weeks, the infant will orient toward the mother’s face in preference to a stranger‘s — and also in preference to the father’s, unless the father is the mothering adult. At seventeen weeks, the infant’s gaze follows the mother’s eyes more closely than her mouth movements, thus fixating on what has been called “the visible portion of the mother’s central nervous system.”

The infant’s right brain reads the mother’s right brain during intense eye-to-eye mutual gaze interactions. As an article in Scientific American expressed it, “Embryologically and anatomically the eye is an extension of the brain; it is almost as if a portion of the brain were in plain sight.” The eyes communicate eloquently the mother’s unconscious emotional states.”


Gabor Maté, Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It
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Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It by Gabor Maté
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