I am fascinated by the concept of the embodied self, how the sense of core self develops and how this creates the mind. Yes, the emergence of the embodied self is a fascinating topic, one that boggles the mind and fires the imagination.
This emergent process is not unlike baking a cake!
Basic cake ingredients include flour, salt, sugar, oil, eggs, milk, and a leavening agent. However, it only emerges as cake once the combined ingredients are subjected to heat.
Similarly, researchers in the field of developmental neuroscience suggest that the fire that gives rise to and animates the embodied self (and mind) is the aggregation or assemblage of environment, experience, and social interaction.
Human beings are conceived and develop within a complex, dynamic, multilevel interactive person-environment system (attachment theory). The development of the embodied self involves exposure of our genetic material to an environment that fosters development and growth.
One source defines environment as “the sum total of all surroundings of a living organism, including natural forces and other living things, which provide conditions for development and growth as well as of danger and damage.”
The relationship humans have with their environment is a reciprocal one. Throughout life, we both shape and are shaped by the environment.
What are the basic environmental conditions required by a child to support its existence, growth, and welfare?
We begin with the obvious. Since an infant is born helpless and dependent upon the care of others, he or she requires a committed caregiver, someone who will supply food, comfort, and protection, at the very least.
A consistent, predictable, and nurturing environment paves the way for optimal brain development because it supports the organized integration of neural synaptic circuits that foster social and emotional functioning, perception, and behavior, all vital to the formation of a coherent sense of self.
Experiences drive patterns of functional, emotional, and psychological development. Brain development is essentially an experience-driven learning process that gives rise to the mind and the core self. Experience also involves participation in events that accumulate over time, creating a knowledge base. Events are perceived through the senses and invoke body-based responses and implicit memory, an embodied self.
For optimal development, infants and young children require a constancy of experience that is nurturing and consistent. Loving caregivers who have been observed responding to their infant in a contingent manner do it by matching the infant’s facial expressions and vocalized sounds. This behavior allows for a meeting of the minds which is essential to the development of self-in-relationship-to-another. The opposite is also true. An unpredictable, volatile environment can wreak havoc on the development of the brain’s emotional centers, seriously impacting a child’s sense of self.
Self-in-relationship-to-another begins before birth and continues throughout the lifespan. When an infant or young child experiences consistent, empathetic, and anticipatory attention to its needs, the experience is embodied to foster a coherent sense of self, self-agency, and the capacity to achieve and maintain a sense of well-being. Research findings also strongly suggest that the quality of an infant’s attachment experience sets the stage for future relationship expectations and is linked to the development of effective or ineffective coping strategies and social, emotional, or behavioral disorders.
Do you think that the growing body of knowledge of the complexities related to the development of the core embodied self will have a positive effect on society in general? Will it motivate prospective parents to learn effective, empathetic parenting skills? Will it humanize us? Please share your thoughts!