Matrescence and the Brain Many Minds Podcast Diverse Intellienges
Aug 31, 2023

Matrescence and the Brain with Winnie Orchard & Jodi Pawluski (podcast)

Research suggests parenthood may lead to enduring structural and functional brain changes, for both birthing mothers and nonbirthing parents.

By Templeton Staff

Matrescence refers to the transformative period when a person becomes a parent, involving both psychological and physiological changes. During pregnancy, the brain undergoes various structural and functional changes, including memory and emotional processing alterations. This episode of Many Minds podcast features two researchers who investigate the effects of parenting on the brain.

Many Minds podcast host, cognitive scientist, and writer Kensy Cooperrider introduces the episode:

“Scientists who study the mind and brain have always been drawn to periods of intense change — to those life stages marked by rapid transformation. Infancy is one of those periods, of course. Adolescence is another. But there’s a less-discussed time of life when our brains and minds have to reconfigure: the window surrounding when we become parents. 

My guests today are Dr. Winnie Orchard and Dr. Jodi Pawluski. Winnie is a cognitive neuroscientist and postdoctoral scholar at the Yale Child Study Center. Jodi is a neuroscientist, author, and podcaster affiliated with the University of Rennes in France. Both are experts in the neural and cognitive changes that surround pregnancy, motherhood, and parenthood more generally. 

Here, we talk about the idea of “matrescence” as a distinctive developmental stage. We discuss the research around memory loss in early motherhood, as well as findings that certain brain areas get fine-tuned during this period. We talk about postpartum anxiety, depression, and psychosis, and what may be causing them. We consider the finding that having children — and, in fact, having more children — seems to confer a protective effect on the aging brain. Throughout we talk about which of these changes also occur in fathers and other non-birthing parents. And we consider the difficulty of scientifically studying a period of life — parenthood — that is not only rife with social and psychological changes, but also fraught with expectations and narratives.”

The conversation also notes that much of the research to date solely represents Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) populations. Both researchers emphasize that there's a real need for more comprehensive research worldwide to understand the impact of matrescence on brain changes, mental health, and personality traits and other factors that contribute to human flourishing.

Play the full episode with the above player.

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Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences is a multiyear, global effort to understand a world alive with brilliance in many forms. Its mission is to promote open-minded, forward-looking inquiry in animal, human, and machine intelligences. We collaborate with leading experts and emerging scholars from around the globe, developing high-caliber projects that advance our comprehension of the constellation of intelligences.

Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI), made possible through a grant from TWCF to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The Many Minds podcast is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from Assistant Producer Urte Laukaityte. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Artwork featured as the podcast badge is by Ben Oldroyd.