“All three studies suggested the same thing: children who are shown more affection early in life reap big benefits. Researchers found that kids who were held more by their parents, whose cries received quick responses in infancy and who were disciplined without corporal punishment were more empathic — that is, they were better able to understand the minds of others — later in life.
Although there were some differences between American and Chinese practices, “we found mostly parallels,” Narvaez notes.
Given that highly affectionate parenting practices are similar to the practices anthropologists believe parents used during the thousands of years that humans lived in hunter-gatherer societies, it’s likely that they are closely matched with what a developing baby’s brain naturally expects.
Consider the way babies instinctively cry when put to sleep alone. In the early human environment, a child would never have slept more than arm’s reach from his parents or other caregivers. Lone sleeping may elicit a stress response in the baby because it’s not the “safe” environment that the brain is programmed to expect. The fact that most babies can adjust to it anyway shows how flexible and “plastic” brain development is — but Narvaez’ research suggests that meeting the brain’s early expectations may have added benefits.