Learning in Relationships


Learning in Relationships

The Development of Human


Thomas Fuchs

Translated from the German by Nina Keuttel

Introduction: Speech and Body Language

A child’s social skill development is predominantly based upon physical communication, or “inter-physicality” (Merleau-


Overview: 1. Neuron Plasticity and Brain

Development 2. Learning in Relationships

Neuron Plasticity and Development:

The human brain is a socially and biographically formed organ.

Neuron Plasticity: Synaptic “Learning”

Hebb 1949: „Neurons that fire together wire together“

Experience-dependent Plasticity of the Brain:

Every experience effects a change in our brain and with that also in our self. In relationships the brain changes and forms itself.

In the beginning was relationship:


Beginning: the Sense of touch

Touching, holding, lifting, rocking, and breastfeeding are the first conveyors of, the feeling of feeling secure and protected.

In the beginning was realtionship: Early Childhood

Beginning: Sense of sight

Innate differentialtion between animate and inanimate attentiveness to faces

Innate ability to imitate facial expressions.

(Meltzoff & Moore 1989)

Early Imitation: the foundation of empathy

Basic Emotions and their Expression

Irrespective of culture and rooted in biology:

Anger, revulsion, fear, sadness, joy, surprise

Universal Emotions

Emotional Resonance

Intuitive Parenting „Skills“

(Papousek Papousek)

Typical Models of Behavior:

Appropriate distance

Eye contact

Reaction to greeting

Facial Expressions

Melodic Baby Talk

Emotional Resonance

Musical Qualities

„crescendo, decrescendo“, flowing, soft, explosive, etc.)

• Emotional coordination „common state of consciousness“, „common dance,“ (Daniel Stern)

Primordial Resonance and Empathy System


“Mirror Neurons” (Rizzolatti u. Gallese 1996ff.) as a basis for Information and Empathy:

Self Movement (gripping for example)

„Observation of Movement “

Mirror Neurons


Not from self

Watching another grip something

„Mirror Neurons“

(Rizzolatti 1996, Gallese 2001)

Two Main Functions:

• Social Understanding

• Learning Social Imitation

Neuronal Neuro Systems also exist for affectations

(e.g. Laughing, Revulsion, Pain).

Development and differentiation of neuronal mirror systems only in social contexts

Unconscious Learning: Implicit Memory

To differentiate from recall memory (autobiographic memory, starts at age 2)

Formation of habits, automatic skills

Organized mainly in the subcortical region

Implicit Memory

Significance for Social Learning:

- Interactive acquisition behavior pattern

(„schemes-of-being-with“, Daniel Stern)


„Implicit Relationship Knowledge“


„musical“ memory, organized by time



2 minute long fixed facial expression of the mother during a play interval:

 irritated, often anxious reaction of the infant

Children distinguish between mothers with:

- sensitive, lively interaction or

- rather more insensitive, passive behavior

(Frequent result: Bonding problem)

Bonding System

(John Bowlby 1955)

Biologically based system for the regulation of proximity, care, and emotional connection:

Typical signals (searching, calling, looking, crying, clinging, among others.)

Impulse drive and needs: (e.g., for attention, nearness, warmth)

Neuro-endocrin functions (e.g., oxytocin effect)

Bonding System

Early bonding as a model for later relationships:

Secure bonding structure

Deprivation syndrome in orphanage children (Spitz 1967)

Effects of postpartum depression of the mother

On the Path to Speech

„The Nine Months Revolution“

„Joint Attention“

Pointing gestures as an expression of a common connection with objects










Dyadic Interaction Triadic Interaction

„The Nine Months Revolution“

Development of speech in the context of joint activities, especially when associated with gestures

The Development of

Self Awareness

• Basal sense of self before birth

•„Self with otheres“ in the first year of life

• Understanding perspective from the age of 9 months:

„Seeing yourself through another‘s eyes“

• The mirror test

The Development of

Self Awareness

• „I“ Pronouns

• Understanding Perspective

• Prefrontal Brain Structures as basis for reception of perspective and self-distancing develop with interactive experiences


Human beings do not come into the world as separate entities. From the beginning, they are already biologically presdisposed toward relationship with others:

- Bonding System

- Resonance and Empathy System

Summary (2)

Beginning of dialogue communications with pointing gestures in cooperative situations



Joint attention

Altruistic and cooperative motivation

The role of the brain as „the relationshop organ“

Neuroscience and Education

Neurobiological knowledge about learning processes:

1) Implicit learning as an enduring foundation

2) Learning in relationships

3) Sense oriented Learning Process

4) Learning as an integral process (cognitive

– emotional – leiblich

– interaktive)

→ Embedding in atmospher and feelings

Embedding in trused environmental contexts

Embedding in sensory and movement experiences


Thank you very much for your attention!