Babies’ Brains and Parenting Policy: The Insensitive Mother

  • Jan Macvarish


This essay …
  • Explores how, since the late 1990s, ‘brain claims’ have entered parenting discourse in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

  • Describes how ‘brain claims’ tend to emphasize the extreme vulnerability of the infant brain to the influence of parents, thereby raising the stakes of parenting and concretizing ideas of parental determinism.

  • Discusses how neuroscience has been appropriated by policy advocates to argue for early intervention into parent-child relationships in the name of preventing social problems.


Family Policy Brain Science Infant Brain Intensive Parenting Parent Policy 
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Further reading

  1. Bruer, J. T. (1999) The Myth of the First Three Years: A new understanding of early brain development and lifelong learning (New York: The Free Press).Google Scholar
  2. This unique book was a passionate early response to brain-based advocacy in the US, and is cited in much of the literature critical of the appropriation of neuroscience by policymakers. It offers a convincing summary and critique of the most prevalent ‘neuromyths’ and provides an invaluable history of the entry of brain claims into US policymaking.Google Scholar
  3. Kagan, J. (1998) Chapter 2 — ‘The allure of infant determinism’, in J. Kagan (ed.) Three Seductive Ideas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).Google Scholar
  4. Kagan’s influential essay draws out the connections between neuroparenting claims and the prior development of attachment theory. In a richly humanistic piece of work, brain claims are contextualized within a longer history of the appeal of deterministic ideas of infant development.Google Scholar
  5. O’ Connor, C. and Joffe, H. (2013) ‘Media representations of early human development: protecting, feeding and loving the developing brain’, Social Science and Medicine, 97, 297–306, This article reports on a remarkably comprehensive review of UK media coverage of brain-based explanations of child development between 2000 and 2010. Reflecting on the critical literature of neuroparenting, the authors identify the wide range of claims made about how parental behavior impacts on infant brains and discusses the normative implications of such arguments.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Ellie Lee, Jennie Bristow, Charlotte Faircloth and Jan Macvarish 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Macvarish

There are no affiliations available

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