“We trained pregnant and never pregnant women and we tested them on their memory for these items immediately after they learned them and then we tested them two weeks later, looking at their long term autobiographical memory. What we found was that for the immediate test, the pregnant women did better than the never pregnant women on the baby relevant items, but they had equal performance on the adult oriented items. That gives some support to our hypothesis that when you actually test for benefits in cognition for ecologically relevant items you see them in pregnancy. But very surprisingly to us, I think the most interesting finding was that when we tested memory two weeks later, the pregnant women do better than the never pregnant women on all of the items. They were retaining much more information across time than the never pregnant women. This was evidence for a general cognitive enhancement during pregnancy that was not specific to ecologically relevant items.”
Episode Description: We begin with a description of what ‘mommy brain’ is as it is understood in the lay and the scientific literatures. Subjectively, many women describe memory deficits during and after pregnancy, yet objective measures generally do not demonstrate these changes. Bridget’s and others’ research found that rather than ‘deficit’ what is taking place is an evolutionarily advantageous specialization of the brain orienting the mother to the revolutionary task of birthing and caring for a new human being. We discuss the brain changes in father’s brains that appear to be related to the degree of caretaking in which they are immersed. We discuss neural plasticity, the adult recapitulation of one’s own childhood experiences, and the interface with depression and anxiety during these periods of flux in one’s life. We close with Bridget sharing with us the importance to her of sharing accurate scientific findings with the general public as well as her wish list for future research.
Our Guest: Bridget Callaghan, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at UCLA who studies how early life experiences influence interactions between mental and physical health across the lifespan, influencing intergenerational patterns of well-being. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, her Masters in Clinical Psychology, and her Ph.D. at the University of New South Wales, Australia. She has worked clinically in the field of developmental psychology and completed her postdoctoral training at Columbia University in New York in 2019. Dr. Callaghan’s research has been generously funded through the National Institutes of Mental Health, Brain Behavior Research Foundation, and National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. She is the recipient of the APS Rising Star Award, the Federation for the Association of Brain and Behavioral Sciences Early Career Impact Award, and the Kucharski Young Investigator Award. She has active collaborations with researchers at New York University, the University of New South Wales and Sydney Children’s Hospital in Australia, Telethon Kids Institute Australia, and the University of Fukui in Japan.
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Harvey Schwartz, MD Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Sidney Kimmel School of Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia. Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst, Philadelphia (PCOP) and New York (PANY).