In this Research Reflections blog Healthwatch Essex, guest contributor, Dr Pascal Vrticka from the University of Essex, discusses his work transforming his research on attachment in children into an accessible resource for new parents.

As an Associate Professor in Psychology and Principal Investigator of the Social Neuroscience of Human Attachment (SoNeAt) Lab at the University of Essex (Colchester, UK), I have been investigating the neuropsychological basis of human relationships, caregiving and attachment for almost two decades. The more I learned about parent-infant interaction and relationship quality, the stronger my motivation became to translate our findings for the benefit of as many parents, practitioners and organisations as possible. In this blog, I reflect upon our recent successful translation efforts in collaboration with the charity Babygro.

My SoNeAt Lab works towards better understanding the neuropsychological basis of human relationships, caregiving and attachment. We mainly draw upon attachment theory, which is one of the most comprehensive contemporary psychology frameworks. Attachment theory describes how we form and maintain relationships across the life span, with a special focus on early parent-infant interaction and relationship quality.

By summarising our own studies and work from other groups around the globe, we recently formulated the first functional neuro-anatomical model of human attachment, which we call NAMA. NAMA shows that attachment plays an important role in the way our brain processes positive emotions and reward during social interaction and connection. Attachment also affects how our brain responds to negative experiences like stress, fear and pain. Moreover, attachment explains differences in our brain’s ability to regulate our emotions and how we think about ourselves and others.

We have known for a long time that attachment strongly impacts our physical and mental wellbeing and health. With NAMA’s help, we now understand much better why this is the case – attachment is literally everywhere in the brain. This is also the reason why high-quality parent-infant interactions and relationships are so important for infant social, emotional and cognitive development, which is tightly linked to infant brain development during the first years of life.

Once we had established the above insights as part of our NAMA, I was looking into ways of making them more widely accessible – beyond our usual outputs like scientific articles and presentations that tend to be quite technical and hard to understand for people outside academia. This aim, however, proved rather difficult. Besides my teaching and student supervision, I had little time for translating our work. I also did not have much experience engaging with parents and their infants and therefore did not know what information would be most beneficial for supporting parent-infant relationships.

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