The case study on infant abuse in rhesus macaques by M. Mar Sánchez, Kai McCormack, and Dario Maestripieri is particularly germane to a work about the effects of early life experiences on later outcomes. As the authors point out, behavioral similarities between nonhuman primate abuse and human abuse are very close, if not identical, given what we know at this time. Furthermore, studying the neuroendocrine, neurochemical, and neuroanatomical consequences in nonhuman primates, although challenging, can be especially helpful.
The work of Sánchez and colleagues has particular resonance and meaning for my field and my research. Three aspects in particular are intriguing points of convergence: (1) the nicely documented multi-system consequences (that is, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal [HPA], serotonergic, and neuroimmune systems) and interactions of abuse and/or rejection, including intergenerational transmission; (2) the dimensional continuum approach to quality of early maternal care seen in natural observations; and (3) the age or developmental specificity of the time course of abuse and rejection. I will discuss each of these further in this commentary.
My connections with this case study intersect both at a general and a specific level. On a general level, my “field” is the very young subspecialty of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. For this field, the influences of early life experiences on later functioning are absolutely central (Barr, 2004). However, in these exciting days of “consilience” among the sciences (Wilson, 1998), this issue is even more general, and transcends many disciplinary boundaries.