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Peptides. 2003 May;24(5):779-88.

Emotion regulation and touch in infants: the role of cholecystokinin and opioids.

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Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, 52900 Ramat-Gan, Israel.


Behavioral-pharmacological research in infant rats supports the role of cholecystokinin (CCK) and opioid peptides in mediating early learning of new associations with aspects of the nest and dam, such as maternal odor, milk, and contact. The current paper reviews research that examines the hypothesis that these neuropeptide systems are further involved in mediating emotion regulation in infants, thus playing a role in the emergence of stress-reactivity and other motivational systems. The beneficial effects of maternal proximity, handling, and touch on the development of emotion regulation have been demonstrated in both human and animal models. Interventions that promote tactile stimulation of the infant ("touch therapy") and infant-mother contact ("skin-to-skin contact" or "kangaroo care") have been shown to improve the infant's ability to self-regulate, and to moderate the effects of some risk factors. Theoretical perspectives and empirical findings regarding emotion regulation in infants are first discussed. This is followed by a review of work providing evidence in animal models (and suggestive evidence in humans) for the importance of CCK and opioid neuropeptides in affecting infant emotion regulation and the impact of touch-based interventions, in particular in the context of infant-mother attraction, contact, separation, and attachment.

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