Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

For infants, stress may be caught, not taught

Date:
February 3, 2014
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
New research shows that babies not only pick up on their mother's stress, they also show corresponding physiological changes.

New research shows that babies not only pick up on their mother's stress, they also show corresponding physiological changes.

"Our research shows that infants 'catch' and embody the physiological residue of their mothers' stressful experiences," says lead researcher Sara Waters, postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"For many years now, social scientists have been interested in how emotions are transmitted from one person to another," says senior author Wendy Berry Mendes, the Sarlo/Ekman Associate Professor of Emotion at UCSF. Indeed, research in the social sciences has shown that emotions can be "contagious" and that there is emotional synchrony between romantic partners.

Waters, Mendes, and colleague Tessa West of New York University, wanted to extend this research by looking at emotional synchrony in the context of another close relationship: that between mother and child.

"Our earliest lessons about how to manage stress and strong negative emotions in our day-to-day lives occur in the parent-child relationship," Waters explains.

The researchers recruited 69 mothers and their 12- to 14-month-old infants to participate in the study. Researchers attached cardiovascular sensors to both mother and infant and took baseline recordings from each. After settling in, mother and infant were separated and the mother was assigned to give a 5-minute speech to two evaluators, followed by a 5-minute Q&A session. Some mothers received positive signals from the evaluators, including nodding, smiling, and leaning forward. Others received negative feedback, such as frowning, shaking their heads, and crossing their arms. A third group of mothers did not receive any feedback. Mother and infant were later reunited.

As predicted, mothers who received negative feedback reported greater decreases in positive emotion and greater increases in negative emotion than did mothers in the other two conditions. They also showed signs of increased cardiac stress.

And the infants quickly picked up on this stress response: Infants whose mothers received negative feedback showed significant increases in heart rate relative to baseline within minutes of being reunited with their mothers.

Importantly, the infant's response tracked the mother's response -- that is, greater the mother's stress response, the greater the infant's stress response, an association that actually became stronger over time.

"Before infants are verbal and able to express themselves fully, we can overlook how exquisitely attuned they are to the emotional tenor of their caregivers," notes Waters. "Your infant may not be able to tell you that you seem stressed or ask you what is wrong, but our work shows that, as soon as she is in your arms, she is picking up on the bodily responses accompanying your emotional state and immediately begins to feel in her own body your own negative emotion."

The researchers note that there are a variety of different channels through which these emotions might be communicated, including odor, vocal tension, and facial expressions. Waters, Mendes, and colleagues are currently investigating the hypothesis that touch plays an important role in emotion contagion.

Ultimately, these findings shed light on how health and well-being can have long-term consequences, transferring across generations:

"A common question in public health circles is how stress and social environment 'gets under the skin' to affect health both at an individual and at a familial level," says Mendes. "With this admittedly modest study, we show a possible mechanism for how stress is transmitted from parent to child."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. F. Waters, T. V. West, W. B. Mendes. Stress Contagion: Physiological Covariation Between Mothers and Infants. Psychological Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/0956797613518352

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "For infants, stress may be caught, not taught." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203084616.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2014, February 3). For infants, stress may be caught, not taught. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203084616.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "For infants, stress may be caught, not taught." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203084616.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) In a ruling attorneys for both sides agreed was a first of its kind, a Georgia appeals court said parents can be held liable for what kids put online. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

Buzz60 (Oct. 17, 2014) Feeling down? Reach for the refrigerator, not the medicine cabinet! TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) shares some of the best foods to boost your mood. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

Newsy (Oct. 15, 2014) Researchers claim they’ve diagnosed the first example of the disorder in a 31-year-old U.S. Navy serviceman. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins