Q. I have a friend who brings me some little gift when she visits. It may be a card, a jar of jam, or an article on brain function. However, she almost always points this out to whomever else is present, saying, “Look what I brought for...” I don’t mind her doing this, but it's childish behavior. What would trigger her brain to do this?

A. Every brain needs recognition and affirmation and as you pointed out this is rather common childlike behavior among the very young. You’ve seen a child draw a picture for a parent and then not only want it posted on the refrigerator but also want to make sure that everyone knows who drew the picture and for whom.

As the brain matures, it tends to grow out of this childlike behavior, which can appearchildish in adulthood. The healthy, functional, mature adult gradually learns to recognize and affirm the self and has less need to orchestrate recognition. In all likelihood if you did something affirming for another person your brain would reward itself by acknowledging the pleasure it received and would likely not need to draw it to the attention of others or broadcast the gift. I, too, have noticed this behavior in some adults and always find it fascinating.

What would trigger her brain to do this? There may be many possible contributors. For example, her may have received little, if any, acknowledgement or affirmation for things she did in childhood and there would have been nothing she could have done to change that. In adulthood, her brain learned that she will get some attention when she gives a gift and receive additional recognition when she tells others about the gift.

Perhaps she struggles with issues of self-worth. Giving a gift and making sure others know what she did may give her a temporary boost in self-esteem. It will only be momentary, however, so she needs to repeat the behavior to get another temporary boost.

As a variation of the behavior you described, you may have observed one partner continually praising the other when visitors are in the home. Affirming your partner for something he or she did can be a simple affirmative thank you, or it may be a strategy to ensure the partner will continue the behavior. Praising the partner for every little thing in the presence of others may again relate to self-esteem. If the person’s selection of a partner did not meet with family approval, for example, continually rehearsing the partner’s perceived positive contributions may be a way to make the person feel better about his or her choice. It may also reflect the level of emotional maturity in both partners....

 

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