You're wrong if you think you can ignore a baby, if only for a few minutes, and she won't remember that incident in the future.
Infant stress from parental unresponsiveness was studied recently by psychologists at the University of Toronto - Scarborough, who used a unique experiment, testing the effects of emotional deprivation on six-month-old babies.
I found that just reading about the experiment was distressing for me. How can scientists replicate the experiment, knowing the effect on the babies? Will research committees approve, knowing that it's painful for the participants and has lasting effects? After all, you can't exactly give full disclosure of adverse effects to six-month-old babies. Nor can they sign informed consent forms. And getting permission from the parents isn't exactly ethical when researchers already know that parents don't believe the experiment's effects are serious or lasting.
IGNORE YOUR BABY
Results of the study by psychologist researchers, headed by Dr. David Haley, are published this month in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters. The researchers asked parents of 30 babies to briefly ignore their six-month-infants.
The mothers were asked to face their baby and to look at a spot just above the infant's head and keep a neutral facial expression for two minutes -- not smiling or cooing with their babies as they normally would -- basically not responding at all to their baby.
Next, the moms played with their infants for two minutes, then ignored them again for two minutes, before playing with them again. (After reading this, even I'm crying.)
ELEVATED STRESS HORMONE
Then saliva samples were taken from the infants to measure their hormone levels. The tests revealed that the emotional response in the babies was immediate, producing elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
To find out if the babies would remember the episode, the infants were returned to the same experiment room 24 hours later, with the same researchers taking their saliva samples.
ANTICIPATED STRESS RESPONSE
This time, the parents did not ignore their babies; however, the infants showed a distinct "anticipatory stress response", with a marked elevation in cortisol.
The babies anticipated stress, from expectations formed from the previous day about how their parents would treat them.
A control group of infants, also part of the two-day experiment, were not subjected to the parental-non-responsiveness and showed no changes in their cortisol.
Jay Belsky, director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at Birbeck University of London, told science news portal Physorg.com :
"What the new data make clear is that the infant does, indeed, remember in some manner how stressful life is and, in line with attachment theory, develops expectations about the future."
'Attachment theory' is the theory that children need a close relationship with at least one primary caregiver in order to develop normally.
Clyde Hertzman, director of the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) at the University of British Columbia, says in a news release, reported by Canada TV, that this research "...helps us to understand why social and emotional deprivation in the first year of life can have profound long-term impacts on child development and mental health."
I hope to hell that the researcher-psychologists offered free therapy for the mothers and their babies after screwing with their bonding and attachment to one another. They can't deny the long-term impacts.
by Sharon McEachern