Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Mothers who have specific fears and anxieties may inadvertently pass them along to their days-old newborns through an unlikely method–smell. A new study published in the journal Proceedings National Academy of Sciences tested the role of smell in fear transfer by exposing rats to mild shocks while they were in an environment scented with peppermint oil. Later, the same rats gave birth, and the pups’ fear responses were tested, measuring the activity of the part of the brain called the amygdala, when they were exposed to the same scent. The pups, the study found, showed a fear reaction at the mere whiff of peppermint.
Newsweek has more:
“It was really surprising to us that…it could be so early and could be so lasting,” said [psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and lead researcher Jacek] Debiec, pointing out that infants generally do not form lasting memories unless experiences are repeated during the first few days of life, a concept called infantile amnesia. “Here it was a single exposure and it was enough for these newborn pups to create lasting memories,” added Debiec.
When researchers gave pups a substance that blocked activity in the amygdala, according to the study, the baby rats did not learn the fear of peppermint smell from their mothers. This could help mental health experts find ways to prevent children from learning certain fear responses from their mothers.
“Infants can learn from their mothers about potential environmental threats before their sensory and motor development allows them a comprehensive exploration of the surrounding environment,” says the six-page study.
Some mother rats tried to plug the tubing so that the smell wouldn’t come through, a behavior that Debiec found interesting and wants to study further.
Image: Boy smells something bad, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
The beloved children’s character Elmo–a Sesame Street Muppet–went on the radio in New York City this morning to talk directly to children who were feeling unsettled and frightened in the wake of the superstorm Sandy, which had particularly damaging effects on the city and surrounding areas. From NBC News.com (the Elmo segment is linked to from the NBC page):
On Tuesday morning, “Sesame Street’s” Elmo visited Brian Lehrer’s WNYC’s radio show and spoke directly to his young audience. And as it turns out, the Muppet is a hurricane pro, having been through a scary storm on “Sesame Street” in the past.
Well, the wind started blowing really bad, and we had to put tape on windows and stuff,” he explained of the episode. He even had to help his pal Big Bird put his nest back together after the storm destroyed it.
Joining Elmo and host Lehrer was Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, the vice president of education and research for Sesame Workshop. She explained that the episode was created long before Sandy or even Hurricane Katrina. It was meant to help parents if their kids should ever face a similar storm.
“‘Sesame Street’ is based on a whole child curriculum, and so we focus not only on the cognitive skills, but social and emotional skills of children,” Truglio said. “We wanted to have a community show like this where we could model for parents tips — so that we could model how you prepare for a storm and how you get through the storm with activities … and keeping your child calm and safe.”
As for Elmo, he took a question from a fan who wanted to know if he was scared on Monday night, as Hurricane Sandy hit his hometown.
“Yeah, but Elmo was with his mommy and daddy, so Elmo asked a lot of questions and learned a lot about what was happening,” he assured.
Image: Elmo, via PBS.org
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Thursday, June 28th, 2012
A study published this week in the journal BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology has found that women who fear childbirth may actually have to endure labors that are, on average, an hour and a half longer than women who are not fearful. From CNN.com:
Study author Dr. Samantha Salvesen Adams initially thought her team would find the prolonged labor could be explained by other factors – women who feared birth the most were first time mothers, who are known to have longer labors anyway, or obstetric interventions like epidurals. But when those factors were taken into consideration, the difference in time between the fearless and the fearful was still 47 minutes.
“Mental stress is associated with physiological arousal and release of stress hormones,” Adams wrote in an e-mail. “During labour, high levels of stress hormones may weaken uterine [contractions].”
In other words, the adrenaline released when a body is stressed stops the oxytocin hormone production that makes a woman’s uterus contract, slowing labor. It’s a natural, biological response to fear, [Dr. Stuart] Fischbein said.
Image: Pregnant woman with clock, via Shutterstock.
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