Arguments in the home linked with babies' brain functioning

March 25, 2013

Being exposed to arguments between parents is associated with the way babies' brains process emotional tone of voice, according to a new study to be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The study, conducted by graduate student Alice Graham with her advisors Phil Fisher and Jennifer Pfeifer of the University of Oregon, found that infants respond to angry tone of voice, even when they're asleep.

Babies' brains are highly plastic, allowing them to develop in response to the environments and encounters they experience. But this plasticity comes with a certain degree of vulnerability—research has shown that severe stress, such as maltreatment or institutionalization, can have a significant, negative impact on child development.

Graham and colleagues wondered what the impact of more moderate stressors might be.

"We were interested in whether a common source of early stress in children's lives—conflict between parents—is associated with how infants' brains function," says Graham.

Graham and colleagues decided to take advantage of recent developments in fMRI scanning with infants to answer this question.

Twenty infants, ranging in age from 6 to 12 months, came into the lab at their regular bedtime. While they were asleep in the scanner, the infants were presented with nonsense sentences spoken in very angry, mildly angry, happy, and neutral tones of voice by a male adult.

"Even during sleep, infants showed distinct patterns of depending on the emotional tone of voice we presented," says Graham.

The researchers found that infants from high conflict homes showed greater reactivity to very angry tone of voice in brain areas linked to stress and , such as the , caudate, thalamus, and hypothalamus.

Previous research with animals has shown that these play an important role in the impact of early on development—the results of this new study suggest that the same might be true for human infants.

According to Graham and colleagues, these findings show that babies are not oblivious to their parents' conflicts, and exposure to these conflicts may influence the way babies' brains process emotion and stress.

Related Stories

Parents' conflicts affect adopted infants' sleep

August 2, 2011

When parents fight, infants are likely to lose sleep, researchers report. "We know that marital problems have an impact on child functioning, and we know that sleep is a big problem for parents," said Jenae M. Neiderhiser, ...

English or Greek, toddlers watch the tone

January 10, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Infants can understand the difference between intentional and accidental actions from tone of voice alone, new research by the Cardiff University School of Psychology has shown.

Recommended for you

How language gives your brain a break

August 3, 2015

Here's a quick task: Take a look at the sentences below and decide which is the most effective. (1) "John threw out the old trash sitting in the kitchen." (2) "John threw the old trash sitting in the kitchen out."

Neural efficiency hypothesis confirmed

July 27, 2015

One of the big questions intelligence researchers grapple with is just how differences in intelligence are reflected in the human brain. Researchers at ETH Zurich have succeeded in studying further details relating to suspected ...

How does color blindness affect color preferences?

July 21, 2015

(Medical Xpress)—Dichromacy is a color vision defect in which one of the three types of cone photoreceptors is missing. The condition is hereditary and sex-linked, mostly affecting males. Although researchers have explored ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.