Herds, packs, flocks and schools evolved because life was safer in larger numbers (Bloom, 2013). Security is the primary reason for social life. Many behaviours like walking or dancing are pleasurable because they synchronise our rhythms with others. One theory for why humans began to stand upright is that it served to increase social bonding and synchrony through singing and dancing. Given the traumatic nature of human history, how have we managed to survive and thrive? The answer lies in attachment – connection to each other and the social group from cradle to grave.

Social behaviour evolved as a neurobiological process that supports homeostasis that leads to optimised health, growth and restoration (Porges, 2021). Polyvagal theory emphasises sociality as the core process that underlies mental and physical health through the co-regulation of autonomic states. A regulated and resourced nervous system down-regulates defensive reactions while a nervous system in chronic stress down-regulates social engagement (Porges, in Dana, 2021). Sociality enables rapid transition from aggressive or submissive states to a state the offers opportunities to co-regulate. The ventral vagus complex calms defenses and provides cues of safety through the social engagement system.

Social baseline theory holds that when we are in the presence of a trustworthy person both people’s amygdalae calm (Badenoch, in Siegel et al, 2021). This leaves them free to explore and be creative. It also reduces the perception of pain and alters the difficulty of a task. Just opening the door in a safe, receptive state, once a relationship has been built can be ‘healing’ and help move people towards security. The safety of one can offer sanctuary for the frightened self of another. While we can co-regulate, we can also ‘co-dysregulate’ each other. We find help in the presence of the other through eyes and voice. The felt sense of ‘we’ is our birth right but this can only emerge when we are in the ‘right mode’ – when the relational right hemisphere in the brain is in the lead.

Neuroscientists and social scientists are outlining the adaptive functions of the right brain (Schore, 2019). It is involved in ‘interpersonal competence’ – the capacity to interact and communicate, to share views and understand the emotions and opinions of others, as well as to resolve conflict. It supports trust, affiliation, fairness, empathy and gratitude. The right brain ‘integrated self’ is characterised by emotional connectedness, broad attention, unconscious generation and regulation of emotion, integration of negative experiences, extended resilience and basic trust – qualities which develop in the first months through interaction with and connection with caregivers.

The right brain is ‘steeped in affiliation drives’ (Schore and Marks-Tarlow, in Schore, 2019). The social, emotional, relational right brain is ‘the cradle for a healthy brain’. If the infant is cherished, soothed, stimulated and receives attuned responses in the first two years their right brain, grounded in the body and relationships, becomes a healthy regulator of the ‘individualistic power orientation’ of the left brain. Love is able to ‘jump-start’ positive emotions and behaviours like interest, excitement, joy, exploration, curiosity and play in babies. Mutual love energises the child to explore their environment and fire the imagination in service of creativity. This love becomes internalised producing passion and a love for life. The early relational matrix facilitates the emergence of the ability to play and lifelong capacity for creative self-expression. In both mother-infant rituals and participating in group-wide ones we see entrainment, chorusing, imitation, joint action, mimesis and motor resonance. Early play has emotion-regulating aspects designed by nature to carry babies to their regulatory boundaries. Through playing on the edge of what is tolerable repeatedly, children learn to stretch their regulatory boundaries which enables them to engage in creative and passionate pursuits later in life that are risky.


Bloom, S. L. (2013). Creating sanctuary: Toward the evolution of sane societies. Routledge.

Cozolino, L. (2013). The social neuroscience of education: Optimizing attachment and learning in the classroom (The Norton series on the social neuroscience of education). W. W. Norton & Company.

Dana, D. (2021). Anchored: How to befriend your nervous system using Polyvagal theory. Sounds True.

Porges, S. W. (2021). Polyvagal safety: Attachment, communication, self-regulation (IPNB). W. W. Norton & Company.

Schore, A. N. (2019). Right brain psychotherapy (Norton series on interpersonal neurobiology). W. W. Norton & Company.

Siegel, D. J., Schore, A. N., & Cozolino, L. (2021). Interpersonal neurobiology and clinical practice (Norton series on interpersonal neurobiology). W. W. Norton & Company.