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CHAPTER FOUR: Body image

Antonella Sansone Karnac Books ePub

While musical notes of a universal sweetness
were coming from mothers and babies of an African tribe
to spread over monuments of differing beauty and history,
I thought that we are all indeed so close to one another,
and that there are situations and languages more able than
to make us close.
We just need to perceive them.

All the sensory information (tactile, proprioceptive, visual, auditory, olfactory, vestibular) from the peripheral body is synthesized in the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of the brain), producing a body image. This information plays an important role in organizing posture and motor activity, both involuntary and programmed. Muscular activity is regulated by reflex pathways (involuntary) and volitional patterns located in the cerebral cortex.

The process of synthesizing the sensory information and all bodily activities begins in the primary stage of life. An attentive observer will notice how a mother during massage or any physical contact with the baby modulates her sensory channels through her voice, touch, eye contact, skin contact, facial expressions, and posture. This impinges on the infant’s whole body experience and her representation of the body’s boundaries and activities. Primary relationships modulate the infant’s physiological activities such as breathing, heart rate, muscle tone, body temperature, postural attitudes, and motor activities, providing the baby with the formation and representation of a primary skin. In other terms, they act as regulators, in the same way that cerebral centres do. This complex process begins in the womb, as the mother’s interactions with her baby, and more indirectly those with the surrounding environment, shape the foetus’s overall development.

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Facial expressions and bodyself image

Antonella Sansone Karnac Books ePub

What a neonate does with her mother in face-to-face interactions

proves that a human being is born with readiness to know another.

A substantial amount of activity during the first two years of life

is extraordinarily social and communicative.

Our posture is moulded by the muscle memory of our early experiences. In this memory are imprinted our parents’ facial expressions and quality of touch, which play an important role in the interaction with the baby. They affect the infant’s responses and movements and, therefore, her posture and body image development.

As soon as the child is born, she uses her maturing sensory capacities, especially smell, taste, and touch, to interact with the social environment. However, at two months of age, the organization of the occipital cortex goes through a critical phase (Yamada et al., 2000). In particular, the mother’s emotionally expressive face is by far the most potent visual stimulus in the infant’s environment and the baby’s intense interest in it, especially in her eyes, leads to periods of intense mutual gazing. The infant’s gaze evokes the mother’s gaze, acting as a potent channel for the transmission of mutual cues. The pupil acts as a powerful non-verbal communicative tool and enlarged pupils in the infant release responses in the caregiver (Hess, 1975).

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CHAPTER EIGHT: From communication to speech

Antonella Sansone Karnac Books ePub

The infant’s innate capacity to develop language
is already the fruit of a relationship.
Mother and baby begin interacting during pregnancy
through a variety of mediators: hormones, breathing, and
heart rhythms,
maternal expectations, thoughts, and postural attitudes.
The mother’s body is also the expression of her culture
and her closest relationships.
The father contributes to shaping the womb environment
by touching the abdominal wall and talking to the baby,
as well as by supporting the mother.
The tiny baby thus has her earliest learning experience.

Pre-verbal communication: the primary bodyself-image

Before 1970, there was little curiosity about young infants’ interactions with their parents. Psychoanalysts had a theoretical interest in the development of the infant’s ego. The problem of how linguistic communication began led to observation of how mothers and fathers communicated with infants before speech. It was found that the primary communication starts from face-to-face contact, more specifically eye contact. This opened up a whole new field of investigation.

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CHAPTER SIX: Movement and communication: the baby massage experience

Antonella Sansone Karnac Books ePub

Mother-baby interactions do not occur in a chain-like
the behaviour of each triggers several others.
The effects of an interaction
are more like those of a stone dropped into water,
causing a multitude of increasing rings,
than a chain where each link leads to only one other.

Ibelieve that there has been inadequate study of emotional bodily dynamics, or the way in which emotions “move”. It seems no coincidence that the word “emotion” derives from “motion” or “movement”. Human communication consists of both sound and movement. The five methods of sensory communication—sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste—comprise a sixth paramount aspect: movement and gesture. While a person is speaking, several parts of the body move in ways that can be either evident or fairly imperceptible; in the same way, the listener’s movements can be co-ordinated with the speaker’s speech rhythm and her bodily movements. When two people talking to each other are filmed, micro-analysis reveals that both are moving in tune to the words being spoken, thus creating a type of dance in rhythm with the speech patterns. This phenomenon can appear quite clearly in the rhythmic conversation between mother and baby (proto-conversation). The mother’s voice is already familiar to her newborn—after all, she has had nine months to get used to it in her womb!

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CHAPTER 7: Emotions and the primal brain

Antonella Sansone Karnac Books ePub

There is no such thing as an infant…without maternal care there would be no infant. (Winnicott, 1960b, p. 39)

Neurobiological studies show that healthy brains depend on healthy bonding relationships with the primary caregivers and effcient connections of neurons in the brain. All these connections make the brain of a two-year-old four times heavier than the newborn's. Early events determine which circuits in the brain will be reinforced and maintained. It is the emotional environment in particular that reinforces this wiring system and determines the density and complexity of connections among the neurons. Neurobiologists show us that the wiring is related to the quality of the parent-infant relationship, the way the baby is cared for, and the quality of the baby's attachment to the parents and others.

Development is about incorporating experience into the developing brain, thus producing new connections and reinforcing them. The capacity of the brain to modify its own structure in response to the environment is called neuroplasticity. Perry, Pollard, Brakely, Baker, &Vigilante have stated (1995): “The single most signifcant distinguishing feature of all nervous tissue–of neurons–is that they are designed to change in response to external signals. Those molecular changes permit the storage of information by neurons and neural systems.”

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