Jul 26, 2023
Scientists who study the mind and brain have always been drawn to periods of intense change—to those life stages marked by rapid transformation. Infancy is one of those periods, of course. Adolescence is another. But there's a less-discussed time of life when our brains and minds have to reconfigure: the window surrounding when we become parents.
My guests today are Dr. Winnie Orchard and Dr. Jodi Pawluski. Winnie is a cognitive neuroscientist and postdoctoral scholar at the Yale Child Study Center. Jodi is a neuroscientist, author, and podcaster affiliated with the University of Rennes in France. Both are experts in the neural and cognitive changes that surround pregnancy, motherhood, and parenthood more generally.
Here, we talk about the idea of "matrescence" as a distinctive developmental stage. We discuss the research around memory loss in early motherhood, as well as findings that certain brain areas get fine-tuned during this period. We talk about postpartum anxiety, depression, and psychosis, and what may be causing them. We consider the finding that having children—and, in fact, having more children—seems to confer a protective effect on the aging brain. Throughout we talk about which of these changes also occur in fathers and other non-birthing parents. And we consider the difficulty of scientifically studying a period of life—parenthood—that is not only rife with social and psychological changes, but also fraught with expectations and narratives.
Alright friends, I hope you enjoy this one. As you'll hear, this research area is very much still in its infancy. There are definitely some provocative findings. But maybe more exciting are all the questions that remain.
Without further ado, here's my chat with Dr. Winnie Orchard and Dr. Jodi Pawluski. Enjoy!
A transcript of this episode is available here.
Notes and links
2:45 – For more on the relationship between adolescence and “matrescence,” see this recent review paper by Winnie and colleagues in Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
17:00 – A recent meta-analysis on cognitive impairment during pregnancy.
25:00 – A study by Winnie and colleagues showing subjective—but not objective—memory deficits in mothers one year after giving birth.
26:45 – An influential study showing structural changes in the brain following pregnancy. The same study also found that some of these changes correlated with measures of maternal attachment.
28:00 – A recent review article by Jodi and colleagues on the idea of neural fine-tuning in early motherhood.
41:45 – A recent review paper by Jodi and colleagues about the neural underpinnings of postpartum depression and anxiety.
44:00 – A review paper about postpartum psychosis.
51:00 – A study on the prevalence of postpartum depression across cultures.
58:00 – A 2014 review of research on mother-child synchrony.
1:13:00 – Several studies have documented general changes in “Big 5” personality factors as people age. A study examining this in both American and Japanese participants is here.
1:18:00 – Since we recorded this interview, the publication date for the English version of Jodi’s book has been scheduled. It comes out in September 2023—more info here.
Dr. Orchard recommends:
Baby Brain, Sarah McKay
Mother Brain, Chelsea Conaboy
Dr. Pawluski recommends:
Matrescence, by Lucy Jones
After the Storm, by Emma Jane Unsworth
Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute, which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from Assistant Producer Urte Laukaityte and with creative support from DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd. Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala.
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