02 May Epigenetics and Developmental Psychology
Epigenetics is the scientific field of Genetics particularly developed during the last two decades, and it studies the influence of the environment of an organism in its genome, and how external factors affect its development and behaviour. Examples of these factors are the toxic load, our nutrition, our mood, the exercise etc.
This means that somebody can inherit a normal gene and finally they express a medical condition, or have abnormal genes and their organism may function normally. Specifically our genes are not static as we thought previously , but they are dynamic units which adapt their expression depending on the environmental conditions in which they are located.
These findings are extremely important, not only for diseases but also for our behavioural features. Here is a very interesting article that analyzes the impact of the behaviour of parents on the health and the behaviour of their children.
What is Epigenetics?
What is Epigenetics and what is its relationship with our behaviour and especially the upbringing of our children? The Epigenetics refers to the reversible changes in the function of genes, but which do not cause any permanent changes in the genetic code. The epigenetic changes are associated with the development of various diseases, namely, the epigenetic mechanisms explain how the environment and our behaviour influence the “expression” of our genes. In a more simple way, the Epigenetics is the switch “On / off” of the genes which are responsible for the patients who are sick. The aim of Epigenetics is to “silence” the “bad” genes.
The Behavioural Epigenetics this time refers to how the expression of our genes is affected by our behaviour. We ourselves are those who “turn on or off” the switch of our genes we had the luck or the misfortune to inherit. We are not at the mercy of heredity. Our psyche and our behavior upset it!
Professor Darcia Narvaez says that we bring up our offsprings in the wrong way and this affects the expression of genes they inherit and additionally it affects and future generations! We know that there is the epigenetic inheritance, eg if our ancestors had the misfortune to experience intense hunger or extreme stress, this genetically is transferred to us, despite the fact that the chain of our DNA does not mutate.
The question is, in what extent social and moral skills are affected, respectively. According to Dr Narvaez, there are critical periods for gene expression. The first years of our life, especially our preadolescence are supremely important periods for the expression of these genes, which will follow us throughout our life. In other words, our genes are not so important, but their “expression” is of significant importance, which is induced by the environment or not.
Why are we interested in all these?
Many people will talk about Social Engineering. How do we grow up and how do we bring up our children? It is known that if we do not give time, attention, care, if we do not teach our children practical and social skills, they will not develop properly. Their language skills will be limited and concerning physiologically their brains will be less well-developed.
The effects of proper upbringing and experiences of the first years of our life are extremely important to our psychosocial development. We are born with only 25% of our brain capacity in operation and most of its skills are developed during the first 5 years of our life, this development is completed in the 25th year of our life,although it is recently said that it is completed in the 35th year of our life.
In the early years of our life and especially during the first year, we develop our resilience to stress. Hundreds of genes are activated during the first year of life with the care of the mother. Touching,the hug, not to let babies cry which destroys synapses are of extreme importance. Babies still remember and their perinatal experiences, their separation from their mothers … Their first experiences are imprinted.
The brain because of fear begins to filter life by fear, something that makes us less flexible, less intelligent, less healthy. Our emotional intelligence is not developed, that is how we react emotionally to situations. Our contact with nature has lost its importance because we do not know how important this contact is for our psyche and our health.
Assuming, then, that we have been brought up with little care, how can we give the care our child needs? We are too busy with our own issues, everything that we did not get emotionally and cognitively, we are not “present in the moment.” And the situation is perpetuated, and our children will imitate our behaviour and they will transfer it in their genes.
This vicious cycle must be stopped. The touch, the game, the contact with nature, humor with our children will create connections that will help them be emotionally healthy, cognitive, social and -either you believe it or not- biologically healthy, transferring healthy genes to the next generation! We are not our genes, we are what we live. We are what makes our genes express themselves,be inherited and ultimately shape our life.
We direct the “game” of our life!
Translation of a Greek Article published by Katerina Boura – Psychologist
Greek Source: Paidorama.com [ http://www.paidorama.com/epigenetiki-kai-anaptiksiaki-psixologia.html ]