Love Makes Your Baby’s Brain Bigger… Neglect, Abuse and Trauma Kill Billions of Brain Cells, Neurologist Says

X-ray images show the brain of a loved 3-year-old is twice as big as the brain of a neglected 3-year-old

X-ray images of two 3-year-old brains originally published in The Telegraph

What’s the difference between the 3-year-old brain on the left and the 3-year-old brain on the right?


The child whose brain appears on the left had a caregiver who consistently loved, cared for, responded to and interacted positively with him.

The child whose brain appears on the right was neglected, ignored and abused.

“The child on the right will grow into an adult who is less intelligent, less able to empathize with others, more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime … and to develop mental and other serious health problems,” says an article published in The Telegraph in 2012.

Apparently in 2012, neurologists were just “beginning” to understand exactly how a baby’s interaction with his mother determined how his brain grows, or doesn’t grow, the article says.

One of the leading neurologists in this field is UCLA psychiatry professor Allan Schore.

The growth of the baby’s brain “literally requires positive interaction between mother and infant,” Schore says in the video below. “The development of cerebral circuits depends on it.”

Schore emphasizes the first two years of life as the most crucial for brain development, as 80 percent of the brain cells a person will ever have are manufactured during that period.

From the beginning of third trimester of pregnancy to the 24th month of life, the human brain more than doubles in size, but only if it gets the “right” positive experiences, Schore says.

“There is something the human brain needs in terms of contact with other humans for it to grow,” Schore says.

Throughout the first two years of life brain cells and their wiring are established – closing down connections that are seldom or never used and reinforcing the ones that are often used.

“The connections that are not used die off,” he says. “It’s a use it or lose it situation. Cells that fire together wire together and do not die together.”

“The brain does not continue to grow and grow and grow. It organizes, then disorganizes, then reorganizes. The disorganization of the brain — the massive death of billions of neurons and disconnection of synapses — is part of how the brain is growing as it’s reorganizing.”

The hormones generated by the relationship between the infant and mother (or primary caregiver) affect the way the genes are encoded.

“We know now for a fact that the endorphins regulate genes positively,” Schore said. “We also know that cortisol, a stress hormone, also regulates genes.”

This is why emotionally enriched (positive) environments are key for infants, he says.

Joining with the child to “co-regulate high levels of positive emotion” like joy, interest and excitement during the first two years literally sets the tone for the rest of their lives.

RELATED: Co-sleeping Contributes to Optimal Brain Development


31 responses to “Love Makes Your Baby’s Brain Bigger… Neglect, Abuse and Trauma Kill Billions of Brain Cells, Neurologist Says”

  1. Lori Mallett Avatar
    Lori Mallett

    I find it so annoying when people rely so heavily on spellcheck instead of human check!

    1. Pat Avatar

      ???? What does spellcheck have to do with baby brains ???

      1. Michael Avatar

        Apparently there must be a connection with how much you were loved as a baby as to how often you will end up using spell check as an adult. If so, thst wuld explan alott.

  2. Rolonne Marie Ross Avatar
    Rolonne Marie Ross

    It is so important that your children feel wanted,loved and respected as tiny human beings.This is why so many Moms in my day quit working to stay home with our children.It makes a HUGE difference in their lives.Regards.R.M.Ross

    1. Working mom Avatar
      Working mom

      Wow. Luckily Canada has 1 year maternity leave support for working mothers, and I was able to find an attachment based home daycare for my son so that I could make sure he had the love he needed while I was hard at work being the breadwinner for my family.

      I have heard many horror stories about the ACTUAL quality of the parenting from past generations of stay at home moms. Kids left in play pens all day so mother’s could cook & clean, parents neglecting their children over night, by shutting the door and ignoring their needs all night. Parents who simply just never were equipped to understand bonding, and how to replace the closeness that was lost when mothers were told to abandon breastfeeding and use bottles and pacifiers.

      1. R Avatar

        Using bottl es u can still bond with your baby! Some women have to b on medication and cant safely breastfeed. I hope your child isnt as much of a judgemental ass as you are!

        1. Working mom Avatar
          Working mom

          Whoa, whoa, whoa. Who said bottle feeding wasn’t best for some families? This comment was in reaction to judgement of working mothers! FED IS BEST – always.

      2. Rolonne Marie Ross Avatar
        Rolonne Marie Ross

        That’s terrible sounds like you had a hard life or someone close to you did.Alcohol should be abandoned in all of these cases that you mentioned.

      3. Valeria Avatar

        I took 3 days maternity leave… including hospital time. Be lucky you are not in I-banking.

    2. Robert Avatar

      It really is so important Rolonne that all children are treated with love & kindness & respect….sadly this is not at all the case and this abuse also gets pass on from one generation to the next. Monkey see, monkey do comes to mind here. I was treated like a dog growing up but don’t feel it effected my brain at all since I do have a very high IQ so is this Neurological study a hypothesis or fact?

      1. Amy C Avatar
        Amy C

        Well, there’s a picture right there,one child was loved and nurtured, the other wasn’t.

  3. bob Avatar

    If the two images are to scale, at best the child on the right would be in a vegetative state and would likely require life support, but more realistically it would be termed microencephaly (a condition that is not survivable beyond a few months of age).

    This kind of deceptive and manipulative spin simply discredits good messages.

    The ends do not justify the means. Lying to get people to “wake up” simply does the opposite.

    1. Lisa Ann Avatar
      Lisa Ann

      So Bob… you believe that you are smarter than leading neurologists in the field, and therefore have every right to question their years of study on this subject? You might want to rethink that arrogance of yours.

      1. Grace Avatar

        He might have a point though, there shouldn’t be that much of a difference in head size…

      2. ryan Avatar

        i dont disagree with the articles premise but i wonder if the left brain is a 95% percentile while the right is more like 25th.

    2. Peter Avatar

      Bob is correct. If the brain on the right was a valid example of a neglected child, we would see millions of tiny headed children and adults running around. We don’t.

      I’m not questioning the message. Neglect does create less developed children and adults, but not to that degree.

      1. CM Avatar

        Isnt the brain that enlarges, the cells that constitute them are the ones living (left image) or dying (right image) the articlr mentions it ffs

    3. Barbara Avatar

      My children were adopted from foster care. The two oldest have microcephaly. They are now twenty-one and thirteen. So microcephaly is survivable, but not without challenges.

    4. Mouse Avatar

      I have a microcephalic child who is FIVE. It is not a death sentences after a few months. I have the child on the right who at age 3 had a brain of a 6 month old. 2 years later… in a home with love and exposure… his brain has grown and he’s advanced up the developmental scale. This article is spot on with our experience.

  4. Ki Avatar

    I do not agree with this. How would they know. The less develop brain could be a genectic trait or something else? It could be lack of nutrition etc…

    1. Peter Avatar

      They watch for facebook posts that say:

      “The only thing wrong with kids today is they aren’t beaten often enough. I was regularly beaten and look how I turned out”.

      They then monitor those people and compare their lives to average, more successful, kinder, compassionate people.

    2. Myer Avatar

      How would they know?? Like many articles, this one merely offers a summary of one simple point and shows one quick, simple example that the author thought would be easily apprehended by members of the general public, who do not have the background of the mountains of research and knowledge behind it. It is not some kind of comprehensive presentation of evidence, or even a thoroughly-explained image. They would know through a whole lot more than can be presented in a bite-sized internet article! Start by wading through volumes by Allan Schore himself, add a few more from Ed Tronick, Bruce Perry, Dan Siegel, and other neuroscientists, researchers, trauma experts….

  5. Cari Avatar

    None of you have seen a child from an orphanage have you? My son, whom we adopted at age 4.5, has a smaller head size than his peers. He is the size of a 5 yr old at age 9. He is very smart. He learned English very quickly. He is in school with his peers.
    He will never grow to normal size. He came home weighing 24 lbs at age 4.5!

    The expert is correct. These kids who waste away in orphanages will have difficulties forever. They won’t catch up to their peers. Trauma and neglect scar them for life.

    1. Amy C Avatar
      Amy C

      Absolutely correct. Few people have seen children from extremely abusive backgrounds. Or if they have, they might think the child is younger than they really are, so may not realize.

  6. d Avatar

    It has been proven that kids would rather get negative attention, such as beating than to be completely ignored (neglected). Studies of kids who have got NO attention at all were better off dead. They essentially were monsters.

  7. Angela Smith Avatar
    Angela Smith

    I suggest that if you have any doubt about these findings you read a book by Dr Bruce Perry, The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog. This was recommended to me to help understand the behaviours of a 13 yr old child. It all made sense after reading it and nurturing and understanding played a huge part in this child’s life. She is slowly but surely developing. It is a long journey but I am so glad I read it.

    1. Amy C Avatar
      Amy C

      I believe there was also a case about a girl named Jeannie…she was locked up in a room when she was younger, extremely abused…

  8. Aly Chiman Avatar

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  9. Terry Frawley Avatar

    This is a well research topic. Children learn 80%+ by age 3. We all are exposed to stress, the issue is prolonged exposure to toxic stress. After extensive research I came to the conclusion that we should educate all parents with a newborn on how and when children learn. The government should step in with impoverished families. When done properly there is a $16 return for every dollar invested. Starting with less remedial classes when these kids reach schools. All the way up to lower crime rates and therefore a reduction of need for prisons.
    I looked at Minnesota and have put the research on a webpage. Solving Minnesota’s Achievement Gap (

    1. Ron Avatar

      The problem is un the US is that they want prisons and prisoners. Someone gets rich from it. The government is more likely to do the opposite of what you’re recommending.

  10. Tina Madelina Avatar

    May I share this on my blog, giving you full credit?

    Madelina birth & baby