Why does a baby strike out in anger? A study looks at the family risks

(Medical Xpress) -- A baby is set on the floor to play with other babies and she yanks a toy away from a playmate or shoves him in frustration or anger.

What makes some infants aggressive? Does something adverse happen in the womb? Is it life with Mom and Dad that ramps up their anti-social behavior? Or both?

These are the questions that a group of Cardiff University —Dale Hay, Lisa Mundy, Siwan Roberts, Raffaella Carta, Cerith Waters, Oliver Perra, Roland Jones, Ian Jones, Ian Goodyer, Gordon Harold, Anita Thapar, and Stephanie van Goozen—are exploring in a large-scale, nationally representative longitudinal study of 271 British infants and their parents. The families are being assessed during the mother’s pregnancy, and at the infants’ ages of 6, 12, 21, and 33 months.

A portion of that study, looking at prenatal predictors of infantile aggression around the first birthday, has already yielded important insights. Happily, it finds that infantile aggression is the exception, not the rule. But when it shows up, says Hay, “it is predicted by the same family factors that are known to predict aggressive behavior in older children and adolescents.” The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In the study, first, during the mother’s third trimester, both parents underwent a thorough psychological assessment and completed questionnaires about their education and work histories. The mothers also described their own conduct when they were young: Did they steal, lie, or cut school? This way the researchers created a profile of parental risks—including depression in the pregnant mom—for their child’s becoming aggressive.

At six months, family members completed an inventory of the baby’s emotions and behavior, such as tantrums or biting.

Then, at 12 months, three families came into the lab at a time, where they attended a simulated birthday party, with decorations and toys for the children to play with. “We wanted to see how they did in naturalistic, but somewhat challenging conditions,” says Hay. Observers counted the instances each baby used a toy or his own body against another child.

Analysis of the data revealed “small to medium, but statistically significant correlations” in two areas: Those few infants who often tugged on other babies’ toys had mothers who were depressed in pregnancy. Those who used their bodies against others had moms with troubled youths. No gender differences showed up. The lab observations at one year mirrored the families’ descriptions of the at six months—indicating a tendency to flail out in anger, not just a reaction to a stressful situation.

The results are partial, and questions about both genetic and environmental contributions remain, says Hay. But the study already offers hope to families whose infants are acting out. Rather than stigmatize or write off a baby as a lost cause, “the family can be given extra support in learning to deal with and ”—and in patiently nurturing an infant whose moods, for whatever reason, may be volatile.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Dyscalculia: Burdened by blunders with numbers

6 hours ago

Between 3 and 6% of schoolchildren suffer from an arithmetic-related learning disability. Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich now show that these children are also more likely to exhibit deficits ...

Free help for expecting and new mums at risk of depression

8 hours ago

With postnatal depression affecting almost one in seven women giving birth in Australia, QUT and the White Cloud Foundation have launched an innovative model of care to provide early access to treatment for expecting and ...

A blood test for suicide?

12 hours ago

Johns Hopkins researchers say they have discovered a chemical alteration in a single human gene linked to stress reactions that, if confirmed in larger studies, could give doctors a simple blood test to reliably predict a ...

Could summer camp be the key to world peace?

Jul 29, 2014

According to findings from a new study by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Jane Risen, and Chicago Booth doctoral student Juliana Schroeder, it may at least be a start.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Skeptic_Heretic
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 28, 2011
Sorry moderators, this IS a relevant point of view so please let it stand.
No it isn't.

Potentially relevant points would be epigenetic basis, derived cultural basis, or perhaps familial projection.

Fantasy stories about hobbits and giants are not relevant.
hush1
not rated yet Jun 29, 2011
SH is a parent of twins. I am a twin and a parent as well.

The researchers' research is at the expense of all, including the integrity of the research itself. I oppose this research.

The language at birth for a newborn is perception. All senses are 'maxed' out. A first big trial run for the 'real'.

You can not 'spoil' an infant. There is no such thing as 'too much' 'attention'. You can read your infant's mind. You had the same state of mind as few years back - when you were an infant. Of course it is unfair to expect you to remember the most important time in your life, despite perception being an overwhelming experience.

The 'only' 'sin' that can be committed is not being able to recall your own state of mind at birth, at 6, 12, 21, and 33 months. Imagine you have that recall. Imagine the understanding.

I oppose these psychologists' research. They know they are wrong. Acting in the name and under the cover called research.

Revoke their license to practice. Call for peer review
aroc91
not rated yet Jun 29, 2011
These thoughts immediately come to mind:
"I'll visit the sins of the fathers unto the third and forth generation" and "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me."

What this means is that we all have inherited the sinful nature of Adam and manifest it by absorbing even more from the environment we are born into. This is the true explanation for why babies have a tendency to strike out in anger - they have a long lineage of sinful behaviour plus are conceived, carried and born in a sinful environment. They have no alternative available to them. So until the final day arrives no one can be free from this curse. One can however compensate for the effects through the correct nurture and support and eventually by accepting the salvation offered by the one who created us.

Sorry moderators, this IS a relevant point of view so please let it stand.


Fuck off, troll.