Tags: pacifier | emotional | growth

Pacifiers may Stunt Emotional Growth

Thursday, 20 September 2012 11:28 AM

Pull the plug. That’s the latest word from new psychological research that has found pacifiers may stunt the emotional development of baby boys by hindering their ability to mirror facial expressions during infancy – an important way that babies learn communication skills and develop “emotional intelligence.”
The findings, published in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology, are based on experiments by a team of researchers led by psychologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that linked heavy pacifier use in childhood to emotional immaturity later in life.
The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics already call for limiting pacifier use to promote breast-feeding and because of connections to ear infections or dental abnormalities.
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But the new study goes further, suggesting pacifier use may also have negative psychological consequences.
Lead researcher Paula Niedenthal, a psychology professor at UW, noted people of all ages often mimic – unwittingly or otherwise – the expressions and body language of the people around them.
"By reflecting what another person is doing, you create some part of the feeling yourself," she said. "That's one of the ways we understand what someone is feeling – especially if they seem angry, but they're saying they're not; or they're smiling, but the context isn't right for happiness."
Mimicry can be an important learning tool for babies, she added.
"We can talk to infants, but at least initially they aren't going to understand what the words mean," Niedenthal said. "So the way we communicate with infants at first is by using the tone of our voice and our facial expressions."
But a pacifier limits a baby’s ability to mirror those expressions and the emotions they represent.
According to the new study’s findings, researchers found 6- and 7-year-old boys who spent more time with pacifiers in their mouths as young children were less likely to mimic the emotional expressions of faces in a video. College-aged men who reported more pacifier use as kids also scored lower than their peers on common tests of empathy and emotional intelligence – assessing the moods of other people.
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"Probably not all pacifier use is bad at all times, so how much is bad and when?" Niedenthal said. "We already know from this work that nighttime pacifier use doesn't make a difference, presumably because that isn't a time when babies are observing and mimicking our facial expressions anyway. It's not learning time."

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Pacifiers may stunt the emotional development of boys by hindering their ability to mirror facial expressions.
Thursday, 20 September 2012 11:28 AM
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