It has been proposed that early attachment relationships shape the structure and reactivity of social brain structures that underlie later social capacities. We provide a review of the literature surrounding the development of neurological regulatory systems during infancy and outline recent research suggesting these systems go on to underlie adaptive parental responses. We review evidence in the peer-reviewed psychiatric literature including (i) observational human literature on the neurobiological and social sequelae of early parenting experiences, (ii) experimental animal literature on the effects of early maternal care on neurological development, (iii) experimental animal literature on the neurobiological underpinnings of parenting behaviours, (iv) observational and fMRI evidence on the neurobiological correlates of parenting behaviours, (v) functional and volumetric imaging studies on adults affected by borderline personality disorder. The development of infant regulatory systems is influenced by early parenting experiences. These frontolimbic regulatory systems are also heavily implicated in normal parental responses to infant cues. These frontolimbic disturbances are also observed in studies of borderline personality disorder; a disorder associated with poor emotional regulation, early trauma and disturbed parenting. While the current literature is limited to animal models of abnormal care giving, existing disorders associated with deficits in regulatory capacity and abnormal frontolimbic functioning may yet provide a human model of the neurobiology of parenting disturbance.
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry Vol. 45, Issue 2, p. 109-122