About the Nurture Science Program at Columbia University

Why do we do it?

The Nurture Science Program at Columbia University Medical Center is a response to an urgent need. There are millions of families and children suffering from emotional problems, behavior disorders, and developmental disabilities, and the current treatment strategies and behavioral therapy are not effectively meeting the needs of those families.

What is our focus?

The Nurture Science Program is an integrated research and treatment program focusing on revealing the mechanisms that account for the healing power of nurture and developing a new generation of biologically-based behavioral therapies that provide families with effective treatment strategies.

The term nurture is used in this context to mean naturally occurring interactions between mothers and infants that underlie their emotional connection. These interactions include olfactory exchange, vocal soothing, comforting touch, eye contact, holding, and cuddling.

These nurturing interactions can be taught. These are skills parents and families can learn to use to prevent emotional problems in the future and even overcome many children's existing emotional, behavioral and developmental problems. This is a low-cost, high-return-on-investment set of skills that improves the caregiver-child relationship and well-being.

What do we hope to learn?

Our central hypothesis is that optimal nurturing interactions can prevent and even overcome emotional, behavioral and developmental problems. We are conducting clinical trials to reveal how the establishment and maintenance of optimal parent-child interactions can affect the physiological and behavioral development of children.

Our mission extends beyond creating treatment protocols; we also will work to implement these protocols at medical facilities - and ultimately as a prevention in people’s homes - throughout the country and the world.

Many of the concepts at the center of the Nurture Science Program are supported by an expanding body of literature from both animal and clinical studies that provides evidence that nurturing interactions between mothers and infants can shape either vulnerability or resilience to a broad range of mental, behavioral, and physical disorders.

The Goals of the NSP

  • Develop and test nurture-based interventions in infants and children and their families through age five
  • Explore the complex biology of mother/infant and family nurture using multiple scientific disciplines and innovative methods
  • Establish new collaborations in order to answer questions about human nurture in the most rigorous scientific terms
  • Provide scientific explanations for the powerful immediate and long-term developmental effects of nurture in rodents and humans, from the molecular to the interpersonal
  • Educate and train the next generation of therapists and nurture scientists
  • Inform the public about the possibilities our research findings can create not just for mothers and infants in the NICU but also for children and entire families