The First Big Love
Exploring the Neurobiology of Parent-Child Bonding

Date: Thursday, February 10, 2011 Place: 1230 York Avenue at 66th Street
Registration: 5:30 – 6:00 p.m.   Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Hall
Program: 6:00 – 7:20 p.m.   The Rockefeller University

Parents know intuitively that their relationships with their children are grounded in the deepest human feelings.  Research on the brain and behavior is uncovering the origins of these powerful emotions and, at the same time, providing surprising insights into many forms of interpersonal connection.  Consider, for example, the hormone oxytocin, which was once associated mainly with childbirth and nursing.  As a result of studies in animals and humans, oxytocin has been found to activate feelings of trust and emotional commitment in men as well as women.  This winter, Parents & Science will host a discussion with two scientists who are making important contributions to the expanded understanding of attachment, through research that encompasses the perspectives of child and parent.

Thomas Insel, M.D., is perhaps best known for elucidating the critical roles of the brain chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin in social attachment—including maternal behavior and pair-bond formation—as well as in aggression. Dr. Insel’s groundbreaking studies in social neuroscience began at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which he joined in 1979.  In early work at NIMH, he also conducted some of the first clinical trials of treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder using the SSRI class of antidepressant medications.  In 1994, he joined Emory University, where he was a professor of psychiatry, director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, and director of a center for autism research.  In 2002, Dr. Insel left Emory to become director of NIMH, where he continues to lead his own laboratory while overseeing an institute with a research budget of $1.5 billion.

Myron Hofer, M.D., who directs the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University, is a psychiatrist who focuses on the role of the parent-infant relationship as the first major environmental influence on postnatal development.  Through pioneering research with rodent models, he and his colleagues have helped to explain how patterns of maternal behavior are entwined with the behavior and physical well-being of the young.  These experiments have shed light on the early origins of attachment, the effects of maternal separation, and the shaping of development by the infant-parent relationship.  A widely published writer, Dr. Hofer is the author of The Roots of Human Behavior, a seminal work in psychobiology.

Please join us on Thursday, February 10, 2010, for a program that will examine the richness and complexity of social attachment, touching on themes such as the evolution of empathy and the underlying neurochemistry of disorders that affect social behavior.

To RSVP or for more information, please contact Erika Layfield at (212) 327-7434 or

Richard Lifton, M.D., Ph.D.
The Rockefeller University

Parents & Science
Faculty Advisor

Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D.
Alfred E. Mirsky Professor
Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch
Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology

Parents & Science Leadership


Daniella Lipper Coules
Talbott Simonds

Steering Committee

Rebecca Anikstein
John Bernstein
Charles W. Caulkins
Karen de Saint Phalle
Blair Pillsbury Enders
Wendy Ettinger
Kathy Heinzelman
Tania Neild, Ph.D.
Ilona Nemeth
Marean Pompidou
Courtney Smith Rae
Loli Echavarria Roosevelt
Kimberly Kravis Schulhof
Roxy Zajac

Scientific Advisory Council

Evelyn Attia, M.D.
BJ Casey, Ph.D.
Myron Hofer, M.D.
Ilene Sackler Lefcourt
Margaret McCarthy, Ph.D.
Richard Nisbett, Ph.D.
Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

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