Tuesday, June 18th, 2013
Babies who have not yet had their first birthdays may be able to express sympathy, or the feeling of concern for the well-being of others. This is the finding of a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, which found that babies preferred the victim to the aggressor in a bullying-type encounter they watched on a video screen. More from LiveScience:
Because 10-month-olds can’t yet express sympathy verbally, Kyoto University researcher Shoji Itakura and colleagues turned to a common tactic in baby-brain research: using simple animations to determine what infants prefer. They showed 40 babies an animation of a blue ball and a yellow cube.
Half of the infants watched a short clip in which the blue ball chased the yellow cube around the screen, hitting it seven times before finally squishing it against a wall. The other half of the group saw the same movements, including the squishing, but the two shapes moved independently without interacting.
In some cases, the “bully” and “victim” roles were swapped, so that the yellow cube was the bad guy. After watching the show, the babies were shown a real yellow cube and a real blue ball, and given the chance to reach for one of the objects.
In cases where the babies had seen one shape beating up on the other, they overwhelmingly reached for the victim, 16 out of 20 times. In comparison, when the shapes hadn’t interacted, the babies’ choices were basically random — nine went for the shape that had gotten squished, and the other 11 went for the nonsquished shape.
The results could have simply indicated that babies preferred to steer clear of a nasty character, not that they felt sympathy for the bullied one. To rule out that possibility, the researchers conducted a second experiment with 24 babies, also 10 months old. These babies saw a show nearly identical to the first, except there was a third character: a red cylinder. The red cylinder was a neutral presence on-screen, neither bullying nor being bullied.
After watching the animation, the babies were again given a choice of two toys. Half could pick between the “victim” shape and the neutral shape, while the other half got to choose between the bullying shape and the neutral shape.
This time, 10 out of 12 babies given the neutral-or-bully option went with the neutral cylinder. Meanwhile, of the 12 given the neutral-or-victim option, 10 picked the victim.
In other words, even when there was no mean character present that a baby might want to avoid, the babies still picked the victim.
Though researchers caution this study should not be taken as solid proof of sympathy in babies, it does follow other recent research, including a study published in January that found that babies could demonstrate signs of empathy, or being able to guess what another person is feeling.
Image: Baby, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, November 20th, 2012
Dr. Daniel Stern, the psychiatrist who coined the term “motherese” to describe the unique way mothers communicate with babies, has died. The New York Times has more on his life and work:
“Dr. Stern was noted for his often poetic language in describing how children respond to their world — how they feel, think and see. He wrote one of his half-dozen books in the form of a diary by a baby. In another book, he told how mothers differ psychologically from women who do not have children. He coined the term “motherese” to describe a form of communication in which mothers are able to read even the slightest of babies’ emotional signals.
Dr. Stern, who did much of his research at what is now Weill Cornell Medical College and at the University of Geneva, drew inspiration from Jay S. Rosenblatt’s work with kittens at the American Museum of Natural History in the 1950s. Dr. Rosenblatt discovered that when he removed kittens from their cage, they made their way to a specific nipple of their mother’s even when they were as young as one day old. That finding demonstrated that learning occurs naturally at an exceptionally early age in a way staged experiments had not.
Dr. Stern videotaped babies from birth through their early years, and then studied the tapes second by second to analyze interactions between mother and child. He challenged the Freudian idea that babies go through defined critical phases, like oral and anal. Rather, he said, their development is continuous, with each phase layered on top of the previous one. The interactions are punctuated by intervals, sometimes only a few seconds long, of rest, solitude and reflection. As this process goes on, they develop a sense that other people can and will share in their feelings, and in that way develop a sense of self.
These interactions can underpin emotional episodes that occur years in the future. Citing one example in a 1990 interview with The Boston Globe, Dr. Stern told of a 13-month-old who grabbed for an electric plug. His alarmed mother, who moments before had been silent and loving, suddenly turned angry and sour. Two years later, the child heard a fairy tale about a wicked witch.
“He’s been prepared for that witch for years,” Dr. Stern said. “He’s already seen someone he loves turn into something evil. It’s perfectly believable for him. He maps right into it.”
Dr. Stern described such phenomena in 1985 in “The Interpersonal World of the Infant,” which the noted psychologist Stanley Spiegel, in an interview in The New York Times, called ‘the book of the decade in its influence on psychoanalytic theory.’”
Image: Mother and baby, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, September 11th, 2012
Sleep-training techniques that fall into the controversial “cry-it-out” category are actually effective and do not cause psychological harm if conducted in a controlled, consistent way, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics has found. Time.com has more:
The study looked at two sleep-training methods known as controlled comforting and camping out, both of which let babies cry it out for short amounts of time. Controlled comforting requires the parent to respond to their child’s cries at increasingly longer intervals to try to encourage the baby to settle down on her own. In camping out, the parent sits in a chair next to the child as he learns to fall asleep; slowly, over time, parents move the chair farther and farther away, until they are out of the room and the infant falls asleep alone.
While neither strategy is as extreme as letting babies cry all night by themselves, they have been criticized over concerns that they may cause long-term emotional or psychological harm in babies, interfere with their ability to manage stress or cripple their relationship with their parents.
The new study by Australian researchers involved 326 children who had parent-reported sleep problems at 7 months. Half of the babies were put in the sleep-training group, in which parents learned helpful bedtime routines as well as the controlled-comforting or camping-out technique (parents could choose which strategy they wanted to use), and half were put in a control group that did not use sleep-training. The researchers followed up with the participants and their parents five years later. (By the study’s end, about 30% of families had dropped out.)
By age 6, the researchers found no significant differences between the kids in either group in terms of emotional health, behavior or sleep problems. In fact, slightly more children in the control group had emotional or behavioral problems than in the sleep-trained group.
Researchers also found no differences in mothers’ levels of depression or anxiety, or in the strength of parent-child bonds between families who had used sleep-training and those who hadn’t.
Image: Crying baby in crib, via Shutterstock
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Monday, August 8th, 2011
A survey of recent research presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting suggested that children who use social networks–a growing majority–face both emotional benefits and detriments from their screen time. CNN.com reports:
On the plus side: In a world full of distractions, social networking and technology can provide tools for teaching in a way that engages and captivates young minds. Online social networking can also help young people learn how to socialize with their peers; users also show more “virtual empathy.”
“It’s almost like social networks are training wheels for life in a lot of ways – it teaches you to express empathy and see how people respond,” [psychology professor Larry] Rosen said. “It teaches you to also just develop your sense of self of who you are. You float things out on a wall post on Facebook and then sit back and look at the comments that you get. It’s a place where you can grow and develop.”
However, the downside is becoming apparent, too. According to studies, middle school, high school and college students looking at Facebook at least one time during a 15-minute study break made lower grades. In addition, many young Facebook users show more tendencies to be narcissistic.
“It’s a continual onset of I, me, mine,” he said. “Your comments back and forth to people all reflect on you, not them.”
The new research suggests that overuse of media and technology can negatively affect health of children and teens, especially with psychological disorders- making users more likely to experience anxiety and depression.
“Everything you do on social networks, you’re doing behind the safety of a screen,” he said. “You’re not paying attention…there’s a real flesh and blood human being at the other end of cyberspace and your words might have consequences for that person.”
(image via: http://www.muscogeemoms.com)
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