Prof. Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg - Leiden University
To begin, Prof. Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg provided a captivating insight into the world of infant crying. We already know that crying plays a really important role in how infants develop attachments with their caregivers, but key to this attachment forming is the response that their crying is met with. Crying often evokes a sensitive and positive response from parents to ensure that the needs of the infant are met. However, infant crying can also result in anger, fear, or aversion from the parent, particularly if the baby is crying for 5+ hours a day. Prof. Bakermans-Kranenburg’s group have been working to examine why some parents are able to respond in a sensitive way to their crying infants, whilst others respond in an abusive manner. The fact that incidences of Shaken Baby Syndrome peak around eight weeks of age, around the same time that rates of infant crying peaks, really drove home why research of this kind is so important.
Prof. Jonathan Hill – University of Reading
Next up was Jonathan Hill who was presenting findings looking at sex differences in adaptation and pathways to psychopathology. One set of interesting findings Prof. Hill presented outlined differences in the ways in which boys and girls are affected by low birth weight and prenatal maternal anxiety, and how this might influence later psychopathology, using a sample from the Wirral Child Health and Development Study. What they found was that low birth weight predicted higher vagal reactivity at 29 weeks only in girls, whilst prenatal maternal anxiety predicted lower vagal reactivity only in boys. Further studies have now followed these children up to 5 years of age and from these findings, it has been hypothesised that increases in vagal reactivity is associated with an increase in ODD symptoms in girls and a reduction of ODD symptoms in boys. From an early intervention stand-point, these findings are really interesting as it indicates that early markers of risk (such as low birth weight or prenatal maternal anxiety) may need to be considerate of slightly different processes in males and females.
The final talk of the day came from Miriam Steele, presenting on the work of the Group Attachment-Based Intervention (GABI) which looks to prevent the intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment in families that have already experienced trauma. GABI, developed by Dr. Anne Murphy and inspired by the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, is designed for families who have histories of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) with the aim of enhancing parent coping and resilience, in turn promoting secure parent-child attachment and preventing disorganised attachment relationships. The intervention works under a framework called R.E.A.R.I.N.G and involves parents with 0-3 year olds attending GABI up to three times a week for two hours, where families can learn parenting skills, share experiences, and meet with a range of therapists. It seems that purely based on the frequency of contact provided by the intervention, GABI can act as a secure base for families in amongst what’s, frequently, an otherwise chaotic life. Building on Mary Dozier’s talk from yesterday, the power of video was displayed once again when Prof. Steele showed us a moving clip of a mother’s response to seeing videos for the first time of her and her infant daughter interacting. We saw that the mother didn’t look solely to the therapists during feedback but also to the other mums taking part, which really highlighted the unique forms of support offered by interventions which have a group-based element.