Butterfly Effect: Examining the impact of multiple adversities upon neurodevelopmental and attachment trajectories from foetal beginnings until infanthood
McLaughlin, Angela Lisa
Introduction The concept of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ was first proposed by Lorenz (1972), an American mathematician and meteorologist who observed that within unstable dynamic environments a small initial event can amplify and result in greater outcomes. Retrospective studies show that exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) can indeed negatively affect lifespan development, but few studies have prospectively sought to capture the Butterfly Effect from pre-birth. Aims This doctoral research study aimed: 1. To explore the neurodevelopmental trajectories of babies exposed to multiple adversities between conception and four months postpartum; 2. To explore the attachment trajectories of dyads exposed to multiple adversities during this time; 3. To explore whether the type, timing and intensity of the adversities experienced leads to differing neurodevelopmental and attachment trajectories observed. Methods A prospective mixed-methods case series analysis approach was adopted within a psychoanalytically informed constant comparison grounded theory framework. Multi-modal methods gathered neurodevelopmental, attachment and adversity data from five high-risk mother-baby dyads between conception and four months postpartum. Measures included: Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale examinations, Bayley-III assessments, Infant CARE-Index video footage, maternal interviews and questionnaires. Infant growth measurements were also recorded. Results Through triangulated multi-modal data analyses a grounded theoretical model emerged: The Butterfly Model. Findings demonstrate the Butterfly Effect observed across the neurodevelopmental and attachment trajectories of babies exposed to multiple adversities between conception and four months postpartum. Protective factors were also observed in some cases. The results suggest that the type, timing and intensity of adversities is more important than multiplicity alone, with some adversities showing a greater impact on developmental trajectories than others. Conclusions This research is one of the first case studies to prospectively capture the developmental trajectories of babies exposed to multiple adversities from conception to early infanthood. Closer observations are discussed alongside the limitations of this study and recommendations for future research and clinical practice proposed.