Attachment and Faces

The most curious thing about attachment, though, is the appearance in the baby’s mind of an awareness of the mother’s subjectivity, that there is an interior behind the face. As the baby studies the matter, plays around with it so to speak, he or she also develops their own interiority and awareness of it as well. To me this marks the true beginning of mind as a consciousness of sentience and it is a deep biological root of our humanity.

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Our brains, like those of some other mammals especially primates, specialize in facial recognition and apprehending both the long standing individual self and the short term emotional changes inherent in social functioning. Actually we have some studies showing facial recognition in bumblebees and I have experienced just that on our deck. Allan Schore in his book Affective Disregulation summarizes the research showing how the infant’s facial recognition develops with its sense and memory of the mother’s smell beginning with its taste of breast milk. With maturation of key brain structures this recognition also comes visually. From here we find emotional mirroring, face to face attention, and then joint attention on the same object. This last shows the development of its consciousness of sentience in its focus based upon its awareness of the mother’s gaze and intent.

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The early maturing brain structures in the lower limbic system, e.g, the amygdala, the cingulate or limbic cortex, insula, etc. function in one basic way to interpret the valence of experience, serious and negative or happy and positive. These same structures also form part of the biological substrate of a person’s self, an early developing self. These two photographs are both notable, I think, for how genuine we find them. Their faces express forthrightly how they feel, that the interior of their minds is knowingly apprehended and found a special place. I think they differ at those moments only in valence and only slightly, two sides of the same close balance.

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