Today on the bus, I happened to be sitting next to someone studying developmental psychology. Since this is clearly a topic of interest for me, I was excited to learn about the research she was reading about. Much of the conversation was centered on experiments and their neurological implications, but one topic in particular caught my attention. She mentioned that the bond between a baby and his mother or father actually has an effect on his or her ability to learn. Because we all want to have smart babies, I decided to research the topic further. Babies and young children who have a good relationship with their parents do in fact have an increased ability to learn.

Many studies have been conducted to determine what kind of effect attachment has on an infant. If you’ve ever taken a psychology class, you’ve undoubtedly seen that depressing video of the baby monkeys frantically screaming and grasping their surrogate mothers made of wire and fleece. In the studies that examine the relationship between learning and social bonds, children who are closer with their parents learn better from them.

Experts have a few different opinions as to why this might be, but one opinion is that social bonding is a learning experience in and of itself. In fact, it’s one of the few things a baby can learn because it doesn’t require any communication. A baby learns to bond with his or her mom instinctively, which causes development in the brain. As the brain grows stronger, learning becomes easier. Also, since a child who is close with his parents learns best from them, there could be an element of trust affecting his ability. A close relationship indicates a certain level of trust, which is required in basic learning.

This knowledge should encourage you to do two things. First, you should certainly make sure your bond with your baby is as strong as it can be. It’s safe to assume you’ll be obsessed with your little one as soon as you lay eyes on him, but continue working on this bond as he grows up. Second, you should take the time to teach your child as much as you can. In his first few years, there is no better teacher than you, the parent. Even the best teacher won’t hold a candle to you, so make every experience a learning experience for your child.

Source: Eric Keverne et al: Early Learning and the Social Bond. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences Volume 807 pp. 329-339 January 1997