It turns out that as important as the skin-to-skin contact we have with our babies in their early years, is the way we hold them. Unrelated to handedness and widespread across cultures, mothers cradle their babies on the left side. Even chimps and gorillas favor the left arm hold. Why, you ask? Apparently, a few researchers have found that the left-cradling tendency promotes right hemisphere-to-right hemisphere communication between mother and child (Manning et al., 1997; Harris, Almergi, & Kirsch 2000).
The right hemisphere is not only deeply connected with the autonomic nervous system, but is also specialized in perception, the recall of spatial patterns of touch in nonverbal memory, and facilitates affective information necessary for normal brain maturation. What’s important to know about the right hemisphere is that as the dominant emotional processing center, it controls vital functions that enable human beings to maintain a homeostatic state to support both survival and help cope with stressors. Right hemispheric dominance in terms of facial recognition, emotional information processing, and limbic system homeostasis suggests that both emotional and social intelligence—intrinsic to the development of courage—are dependent on right hemisphere stimulation and maturation through secure attachment.
From the first moments that an infant is held, the holder is not only engaging the already on-line limbic system’s amygdalae (hence an infant’s early startle response); but right-to-right hemispheric communication also supports analysis of information conveyed directly from the body. That is to say, when an infant is experiencing discomfort, or some immunological response, his/her cues to us are best received and recognized through right-to-right hemispheric communication. Schore (1994) proposes that secure attachment relationships
directly influence the development of right brain psychosocial–neuroendocrine–immune communications which, in turn, directly affect a child’s coping capacities. Think back to the first moments that you held your child, did you hold them with your left arm or your right?
The early days of holding our infant are the basis for the earliest learning of what is now commonly known as emotional intelligence
(Salovey & Mayer, 1989/1990). Emotional intelligence refers to a set of skills associated with the processing of emotional information, accurate perception and appraisal of emotions in oneself and others, appropriate expression of emotion, and the adaptive regulation, planning, and motivation associated with emotions in such a manner as to enhance living.
Emotion is the linchpin that enables us to adapt psychologically, physiologically, and behaviorally to have the courage to meet the challenges in our lives.
The next time your daughter is playing with her dolls, if she does that kind of thing, check out how she holds her doll. Not your son, though, this appears to be a uniquely maternal instinct.
Tonight, cuddle up with your child in your left nook, gaze down into his/her eyes reflecting love
, read or tell a story
, and watch the images formed from the words dance in your child’s eyes and imagination. Delight in, celebrate, and rest easy in the wisdom of Mother Nature and the strength of your secure attachment to one another.
Upcoming post: Ways to stimulate right-brain development that don’t just include cuddling ‘n snuggling!
Harris, L., Almergi, J., & Kirsch, E. (2000). Side preference in adults for holding infants: Contributions of sex and handedness is a test of imagination. Brain & Cognition, 43, 246–252.
Manning, J., Trivers, R., Thornhill, R., Singh, D., Denman, J., Eklo, M., & Anderton, R. (1997). Ear asymmetry and left-side cradling. Evolution and Human Behavior, 18, 327–340.
Salovey, P., & Mayer, J.D. (1989/1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, cognition, and personality. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, (3), 185–211.
Schore, A. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: The neurobiology of emotional development. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Schore, A. (2001). Effects of a secure attachment relationship on right brain development, affect regulation, and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22, (1-2), 7-66.