Public Release: 

Symposium on how 'nature and nurture' impact child development

American Psychoanalytic Association

New York, NY--The American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) announces that liaison (AAAS Section on Neuroscience) Regina Pally, M.D.will be heading a symposium on how "'Nature and Nurture' Impact Child Development at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The symposium will be held on Sunday, February 16, 2003 from 8:30 am until 11:30 am, U.S. Mountain Time, in Room A205 at the Colorado Convention Center, 700 14th Street, Denver, CO.

The aim of this symposium is to present research, which shows that genes and environment interact in a synergistic way to influence how a child develops psychologically.

Animal and human studies indicate genetic factors that predispose offspring to develop "psychological" traits such as shyness, fearfulness, aggressiveness and impulsiveness, and that specific neurobiologic substrates (i.e., receptors, and mRNA levels) correlate with these traits. There is evidence, however, for "behavioral transmission" of traits as well. The type of maternal care offspring receive, appears to influence whether a particular psychological trait (and underlying neurobiologic substrates) will be expressed in genetically predisposed individuals.

For example in animal cross-fostering studies offspring with a genetic predisposition to fearfulness will be less fearful if raised by highly nurturing mothers, whereas even offspring genetically predisposed to be calmer, will be fearful if raised by poorly nurturing mothers. Maternal care appears to alter "gene expression", as reflected in measurements of mRNA in the hypothalamus and receptor levels in the hippocampus, and amygdala. In humans, innate genetic factors predispose individuals to symptoms such as affect dysregulation, impulsivity and aggression, which underlie a number of psychiatric disorders.

But 'genes are not necessarily destiny'. A number of studies indicate that environmental factors, such as maternal care, which in humans involves not just "emotional nurturance" (as in animals) but "reflective capacity" as well, influence outcome variables. Interventions, which educate parents to be better parents, and which treat patients with these disorders are able to modify the deleterious effects of these genetic vulnerabilities.

This symposium attempts a more balanced approach to the "nature-nurture" controversy. HOW a child is raised may be able to ameliorate genetic vulnerabilities, or exacerbate them. Individuals who do develop disorders as a result of genetic vulnerabilities, may still be able to receive psychotherapeutic treatment which helps ameliorate their symptoms.

Three of the speakers (Champagne, Suomi and Davidson) have been selected) because they are prominent basic researchers who have published extensively on the subject of the interface between genes and environment with respect to emotion, behavior and physiology; and have already worked together studying this subject, both in animals and humans. The fourth speaker (Gabbard) is a prominent psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who has studied the mind-brain/gene-environment interaction in humans, particularly with respect to the severe psychiatric condition known as Borderline Personality Disorder.

Regina Pally, M.D. (310-820-2700;
APsaA member and Associate Clinical Professor, UCLA; faculty, Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute

Frances A. Champagne, (514-761-6131, ext. 4134;
CIHR Doctoral fellow, Douglas Hospital research center, Neurological Sciences Program, McGill University
"Good verses bad maternal care: How mothering can influence gene expression".

Champagne will discuss "behavioral transmission" verses "genetic transmission" of traits in rats. In particular, she will focus on how different kinds of maternal care influence the transmission, from mother to offspring, of fearfulness to novel situations, autonomic reactivity and cortisol production.

Stephen Suomi, PhD: (301-496-9550;
Chief, Laboratory of Comparative Ethology, NICHD, NIH
"How Gene-Environment Interactions Shape Social and Emotional Functioning in Rhesus Monkeys"

Rhesus monkeys display emotional behaviors remarkably similar human infants and children. As with humans, a small percentage of young monkeys show anxious-fearful behavior to new or mildly stressful situations and others are impulsive or inappropriately aggressive, resulting in poor long term outcome with respect to both social adaptation within the troop and physiologic function. If reared apart from their mothers, these traits are more likely to be expressed. If reared, by what Dr. Suomi refers to as "super moms", not only are these monkeys less likely to express these traits, but in some instances do better than normal peers who did not have these traits.

D. Jeffrey Newport, M.D., M.Div. (404-778-2511,
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Emory Women's Mental Health Program
Emory University School of Medicine

"Maternal Depression: A Child's First Adverse Life Event"
Dr. Newport will discuss the evidence that maternal depression constitutes an adverse life event for the developing child that engenders a persistent vulnerability to depressive illness. In particular, he will review data regarding the impact of depression upon maternal behavior, its consequences for offspring cognitive and behavioral development, and the neurobiological alterations witnessed in the children of depressed mothers. Important parallels to the preclinical literature will be highlighted, and finally, Dr. Newport will describe the clinical implications for the treatment of depressed mothers including its role as a primary preventive care measure for children exposed to the untoward effects of maternal depression.

Glen Gabbard, M.D. (713-798-6397, Professor of Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine; Training and Supervising Analyst, Houston/Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute; Joint Editor-in Chief, International Journal of Psychoanalysis.

"The impact of psychotherapy on the brain" Dr. Gabbard will discuss the interaction of genetics, biology and environment in the development of personality and summarize research suggesting how psychotherapy may affect the brain.


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