As I began re-writing chapter 5 of my book, I wanted to share some highlights of a few studies.
The neurobiology of affiliation - which is tied to interactive regulation - has 2 key components:
- Biobehavioral Synchrony
- Oxytocin (OT) System
Biobehavioral synchrony is part of our ability to tune into socio-biomechanic movements of the people around us in order to coordinate our own physiological responses. It’s a process that is extremely important when we are in our earliest years - where more mature brains help regulate less mature brains. It’s about gaze, internal state (manifested outwardly), voice and touch.
In the 80s, at the Calgary airport - my brother and I greeting my grandma (Omi) upon her arrival from Germany for a visit
Two key things to keep in mind about biobehavioral synchrony is: PRESENCE and ACTION
We can’t accurately and optimally coordinate our responses to others if we are not fully present. The more sensory-motor data our brain–body has to work with, the better its algorithms become for predicting and adjusting its own responses.
We also need some type of movement (action) to occur in order for others to help understand what is going on internally for us. This means we need to actually move in some way (even if it’s micro-movements, such as typing a message, smiling, reaching out one’s hand, speaking, etc) in order to send out signals that can be picked up by another. When we are building connections with others, we need to express our intentions through some kind of movement. This is especially important for young children - who benefit from slightly more exaggerated vocal and facial expressions when they are young, so that they can see a wide range of nuance and frequencies, which helps with detecting patterns in a variety of social settings. This helps their brain-body system mirror a wider range for their own expression as well. Using prosodic voice and expressing a variety of emotions is important for emotion-regulation, both within ourselves and to help others improve their ability to use these systems for themselves.
The other aspect of the interactive regulation is the Oxytocin System
Oxytocin is synthesized in the hypothalamus and is considered an ‘anti-stress hormone’.
It can mediate the effects of cortisol, and has ‘anxiolytic’ effects (reduces anxiety) that help calm stress through social affiliations. It matters who we are affiliating with, however, and it’s important for us to seek out bonds and connections that help us regulate our nervous systems.
The bottom line is that we are biologically designed to find a sense of calm, security and safety with a close group of people.
In order to function at our highest potential, we need to prioritize close, stable, dependable and intimate connections with others who we trust have our best interests at heart. Doing so gives us a neurochemical advantage for restoring our internal systems and freeing up energy for solving other problems. This is a major part of what family systems and units play in the resilience of many species.
We can’t do this journey alone. We need people who understand us and who can connect with us - not just on a physical level, but who see the world in similar ways. This is where it’s important for us to choose our families. The wellbeing of our society depends on the quality and priority we give to building strong, loving connections, bonds, families, partnerships and communities. From a nervous system perspective (and especially for young people), this is the most important pillar of building the brain architecture needed for achieving our highest potential.
*There are also intergenerational transmissions of oxytocin processes that relate to parental caregiving, which I’ll cover in another article.
With Love from Me to You
On a side note…
Another 20 hours of wilderness first responder training this weekend! (the remaining 40 hours will be in March). It’s been an empowering experience so far (although I am looking forward to having some weekends with more availability after this :-). Learning skills like this feels like it opens up so many more possibilities for exploring the world, and taking care of others.
Just recorded an interview with Warriors Heart Healing - it was a beautiful conversation and Im very much looking forward to sharing it with you. They invited me to visit their campus, so I look forward to that sometime this year as well!
For any of you interested in learning more about outdoor skills, check out this cool video about surviving 72 hours with only the contents of a ziploc bag!
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