An Introduction to Interpersonal Neurobiology
An Interdisciplinary Field: Seeking Similar Patterns
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. is a pioneer in the field called interpersonal neurobiology (The Developing Mind, 1999) which seeks the similar patterns that arise from separate approaches to knowledge. This interdisciplinary approach invites all branches of science and other ways of knowing to come together and find the common principles from within their often disparate approaches to understanding human experience. Sciences contributing to this exciting framework include the following:
- Biology (developmental, evolution, genetics, zoology)
- Cognitive Science
- Computer Science
- Developmental Psychopathology
- Neuroscience (affective, cognitive, developmental, social)
- Mental Health
- Psychology (cognitive, developmental, evolutionary, experimental, of religion, social, attachment theory, memory)
- Systems Theory (chaos and complexity theory)
Interpersonal neurobiology weaves research from these areas into a conciliant framework that examines the common findings among independent disciplines. This framework provides the basis of interpersonal neurobiology. The mind is defined and its components necessary for health are illuminated.
The Mindsight Approach Exists Within the Field of Interpersonal Neurobiology
Under the umbrella of interpersonal neurobiology, Dr. Siegel’s mindsight approach applies the emerging principles of interpersonal neurobiology to promote compassion, kindness, resilience, and well-being in our personal lives, our relationships, and our communities. At the heart of both interpersonal neurobiology and the mindsight approach is the concept of “integration” which entails the linkage of different aspects of a system—whether they exist within a single person or a collection of individuals. Integration is seen as the essential mechanism of health as it promotes a flexible and adaptive way of being that is filled with vitality and creativity. The ultimate outcome of integration is harmony. The absence of integration leads to chaos and rigidity—a finding that enables us to re-envision our understanding of mental disorders and how we can work together in the fields of mental health, education, and other disciplines, to create a healthier, more integrated world.
Integration: At the Core of Our Well-Being
Integration is at the heart of both interpersonal neurobiology and Dr. Siegel’s mindsight approach. Defined as the linkage of differentiated components of a system, integration is viewed as the core mechanism in the cultivation of well-being. In an individual’s mind, integration involves the linkage of separate aspects of mental processes to each other, such as thought with feeling, bodily sensation with logic. In a relationship, integration entails each person’s being respected for his or her autonomy and differentiated self while at the same time being linked to others in empathic communication.
What Does Integration Mean for the Brain?
For the brain, integration means that separated areas with their unique functions, in the skull and throughout the body, become linked to each other through synaptic connections. These integrated linkages enable more intricate functions to emerge—such as insight, empathy, intuition, and morality. A result of integration is kindness, resilience, and health. Terms for these three forms of integration are a coherent mind, empathic relationships, and an integrated brain.
Focus Your Attention: Actually Change Your Brain
This highly integrative field is not a division of one particular area of research, but rather is an open and evolving way of knowing that invites all domains of both academic and reflective explorations of reality into a collective conversation about the nature of the mind, the body, the brain, and our relationships with each other and the larger world in which we live. This emerging approach is fundamental to exploring a range of human endeavors, including the fields of mental health, education, parenting, organizational leadership, climate change intervention, religion, and contemplation. Knowing about the way the focus of attention changes the structure and function of the brain throughout the lifespan opens new doors to healing and growth at the individual, family, community, and global levels.
“Inspire to Rewire”
By combining the exciting new findings of how awareness can shape the connections in the brain toward integration together with the knowledge of how interpersonal relationships shape our brains throughout the lifespan, we can actively “inspire each other to rewire” our internal and interpersonal lives toward integration. Through his writing and teaching, Dr. Siegel devotes his life to synthesizing and translating the latest scientific concepts so that they may be accessible and useful to as many people as possible in their personal and professional lives.
Want to Learn More?
For further reading on interpersonal neurobiology, please see Norton’s professional series which was founded by Dr. Siegel and includes over seventy textbooks. See also Dr. Siegel’s books, including The Developing Mind(1999, 2012, 2020) , The Mindful Therapist and Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.