School children whose mothers nurtured them lovingly have a larger hippocampus, a key brain area vital for learning, memory and response to stress.
Research by the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, is the first to show that changes in this critical region of children's brain anatomy are linked to a mother's nurturing.
"This study validates something that seems to be intuitive, which is just how important nurturing parents are to creating adaptive human beings," says study co-author Joan L. Luby, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition reports.
For the current study, researchers conducted brain scans on 92 school children who had had symptoms of depression or were mentally healthy when they were preschoolers, according to a Washington School of Medicine statement.
The imaging revealed that children without depression who had been lovingly nurtured had a hippocampus almost 10 percent larger that children whose mothers were not as nurturing.
"But most of those studies have looked at psychosocial factors or school performance. This study, to my knowledge, is the first that actually shows an anatomical change in the brain. Having a hippocampus that's almost 10 percent larger just provides concrete evidence of nurturing's powerful effect," Luby concluded.