Stressed out: Studies show babies become anxious if ignored for even two minutes by mother
By Fiona Macrae
Last updated at 8:17 AM on 25th August 2010
Stressed: Babies deprived of attention become worried and anxious, says new Canadian research
They may have barely mastered sitting up by themselves.
But six-month-old babies become stressed out when they don’t get the attention they feel they deserve.
Levels of the stress hormone cortisol soar when they are ignored by their mother, and even a day later they are worried about the same thing happening again.
A baby who is deprived of its mother’s love for just two minutes is anxious about being ignored again the next day, a study found.
Experts in child development said that repeated episodes of stress could have a huge effect on a youngster’s health and on his or her course in life.
To investigate whether six-month-olds are capable of anticipating trouble, the Canadian researchers invited 30 mothers and babies into their laboratory and divided them into two groups.
Babies were placed in car seats and their mothers played with them and talked to them as normal.
The play was then interspersed with two-minute periods in which the mother simply stared over her child’s head, keeping her face free of emotion.
The next day, she took her child back to the laboratory. Levels of cortisol were measured several times on both days. Amounts of cortisol shot up when the babies were ignored.
They then fell off, before rising again when the youngsters were taken back into the laboratory, despite them not being ignored on the second day.
A second group of babies went through the same process, but without being ignored at any time, and their hormone levels barely changed.
The findings suggest that being taken back into the laboratory led the youngsters who had been ignored to anticipate there being more trouble ahead, the journal Biology Letters reports.
Researcher Dr David Haley, of the University of Toronto, said: ‘The results suggest that human infants have the capacity to produce an anticipatory stress response that is based on expectations about how their parents will treat them in a specific context.’
Professor Jay Belsky, of Birbeck College, University of London, said factors such as depression could affect a mother’s relationship with her baby and send cortisol levels soaring time and time again.
This could lower a baby’s immune system, while a troubled upbringing may also mean the child going on to become a less than perfect parent itself.