Mothers see their youngest as shorter than they are

December 16, 2013
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Many parents say when their second child is born that their first child suddenly appears to have grown overnight. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on December 16 have an explanation: until the birth of the new child, those parents were subject to a "baby illusion," routinely misperceiving their youngest child as smaller (and younger) than he or she really was.

"Contrary to what many may think, this isn't happening just because the older just looks so big compared to a baby," says Jordy Kaufman of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. "It actually happens because all along the were under an illusion that their first child was smaller than he or she really was. When the new baby is born, the spell is broken and parents now see their older child as he or she really is."

Kaufman and his colleagues made the discovery first by asking 747 mothers if they remembered experiencing a sudden shift in their first child's size after the of a new infant. The researchers found that 70% of the mothers did.

To further explore that perceptual shift, the researchers asked mothers to estimate the of one of their young children (aged 2 to 6) by marking a blank wall. When the researchers compared those height estimations to the child's real height, they found something very interesting: mothers significantly underestimated the height of their youngest child by 7.5 cm on average. In contrast, height estimates for the eldest child were almost accurate.

"The key implication is that we may treat our youngest children as if they are actually younger than they really are," Kaufman says. "In other words, our research potentially explains why the 'baby of the family' never outgrows that label. To the parents, the baby of the family may always be 'the baby.'"

The findings are a useful reminder of just how filtered our own perceptions of the world around us can be.

"We cannot trust the accuracy of our perceptions," Kaufman says. "In this case, it shows that our feelings and knowledge of our children affect how we actually perceive them. But it's important to consider that this misperception may actually make it easier to quickly distinguish one's youngest child from the other ."

Explore further: Use of spanking exacerbates aggressive child behavior

More information: Current Biology, Kaufman et al.: "Parental misperception of youngest child size"

Related Stories

Use of spanking exacerbates aggressive child behavior

December 10, 2013
A mother's affection after she spanks her child does little to diminish the negative impact of the act, a new University of Michigan study finds.

ADHD linked to social and economic disadvantage

November 26, 2013
Scientists have found evidence of a link between social and economic status and childhood attention deficit disorder (ADHD) in the UK.

Can putting your child before yourself make you a happier person?

October 31, 2013
While popular media often depicts highly-involved parents negatively as "helicopter parents" or "tiger moms, how does placing one's children at the center of family life really affect parental well-being? New research published ...

Birth of a first baby can trigger anxiety

October 28, 2013
Around a third of first-time mothers experience anxiety symptoms after the birth of their baby, new research has found.

China: Birth limits still needed despite easing

November 19, 2013
China has no intention of abandoning family planning controls soon despite announcing it would ease the one-child policy, a government spokesman said Tuesday, adding that the policy could be loosened further in the future.

Recommended for you

Children with fragile X syndrome have a bias toward threatening emotion

August 23, 2017
Anxiety occurs at high rates in children with fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common form of inherited intellectual disability. Children with co-occurring anxiety tend to fare worse, but it can be hard to identify in infants. ...

So-called "bright girl effect" does not last into adulthood

August 23, 2017
The notion that young females limit their own progress based on what they believe about their intelligence—called the "bright girl effect"—does not persist into adulthood, according to new research from Case Western Reserve ...

Like adults, children show bias in attributing mental states to others

August 22, 2017
Young children are more likely to attribute mental states to characters that belong to the same group as them relative to characters that belong to an outside group, according to findings published in Psychological Science, ...

High moral reasoning associated with increased activity in the human brain's reward system

August 22, 2017
Individuals who have a high level of moral reasoning show increased activity in the brain's frontostriatal reward system, both during periods of rest and while performing a sequential risk taking and decision making task ...

Yoga and meditation improve mind-body health and stress resilience

August 22, 2017
Many people report positive health effects from practicing yoga and meditation, and experience both mental and physical benefits from these practices. However, we still have much to learn about how exactly these practices ...

Wealth disparity and family income impact the brain development of female youth

August 22, 2017
Female teenagers living in neighbourhoods with wide salary gaps and a low-income household show changes to their brain maturation that could indicate a higher risk of developing mental illness in adulthood, suggests a recently ...

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.