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Acta Paediatr Suppl. 1994 Jun;397:9-18.

Early relationships as regulators of infant physiology and behavior.

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  • Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY.


In recent years, animal research has revealed a network of simple behavioral and biological processes that underlie the psychological constructs we use to define early social relationships. Hidden within the observable interactions of parent and offspring are sensorimotor, thermal and nutrient-based events which have unexpected and widespread regulatory effects on infant behavior and physiology. The complex pattern of responses resulting from early separation in infant rats can be traced to the abrupt withdrawal of a number of discrete, independent regulatory processes which had been acting on individual components of the infant's physiology and behavior. These regulatory processes also appear to mediate long-term shaping effects exerted by early relationships, for example, on the vulnerability of the adult rat to hypertension and stress ulcer. In human development, early regulatory interactions may provide a bridge between biological and psychological processes in the development of our earliest mental representations.

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