Wired by Touch
Mothers are the world’s first neuroplasticians. They have been responsible for wiring the brains of babies since mothers started having babies. When love guides, soothing is balanced with new stimulation and the babies’ nervous systems advance in leaps and bounds of new wiring, new sensory experience, expanding cognitive skills and growing emotional capacity. In early development the driving force for all of this is the sensation of gentle touch. Touch serves a lifetime as something that brings us back to that soothing union.
Look at the graphic on page 18 of mother and child. The look in the eye of parent and child is one of dreamy contentment. Each is connected to a part of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN), the place we go when we are not performing some focused task, the place of daydreams, of meditative calm, of contemplative self. The DMN is the network in the brain where we are ourselves. A 2012 study on different massage techniques shows that human touch activates the DMN while massage with an inanimate object does not do so. The areas of the brain that are particularly stimulated are associated with emotional well-being and pleasure. Touch makes our brains happy.