Researchers at Aarhus University want to find a scientific explanation for why physical contact is important for infants’ emotional development. The aim is to investigate how this affects brain development and emotional health.
Researchers have long known that newborns need closeness and physical touch, but they do not know why. Associate Professor Asami Tanimura at DANDRITE (Danish Research Institute of Translational Neuroscience) and Aarhus University is investigating how humans create emotions and how they can be identified in the brain. Tanimura has now received DKK 2 million from the Lundbeck Foundation Experimental Grant to investigate how physical contact contributes to the emotional development of the immature brain in newborns.
– We already know a lot about how vision and hearing affect brain development after birth, but we know very little about how emotional development takes place, and this is where physical touch and social contact play an important role, she says in a press release.
The researcher will focus on the development of the limbic system, a part of the brain involved in emotions, including the “reward system” that is activated when we feel pleasure, for example.
Initially, she will use mice in studies where, by separating mother and offspring, she can measure how this separation affects the development of the limbic system over a period of time. Her theory is that depriving newborns of touch could “damage” the early development of the circuits in the brain that regulate emotions, potentially leading to problematic behavior in adulthood.
– If we can find the answer to how the emotional system develops, we can also find the answer to what happens when it does not develop normally, and thus explain why some people develop emotional disorders such as addiction, depression or anxiety, she says. “It would give us a whole new scientific basis for understanding the importance of skin-to-skin contact from birth.