Criticism from parents affects how children's brains respond to emotional information

June 11, 2018, Binghamton University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Children of highly critical parents show less attention to emotional facial expressions, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University at New York.

"These findings suggest that children with a critical parent might avoid paying attention to faces expressing any type of emotion," said Kiera James, graduate student of psychology at Binghamton University, and lead author of the paper. "This behavior might affect their relationships with others and could be one reason why children exposed to high levels of criticism are at risk for things like depression and anxiety."

The researchers wanted to examine how exposure to parental criticism impacts the way that children process and pay attention to facial expressions of emotion. One way to look at attention is through a neural marker called the Late Positive Potential (LPP), which provides a measure of how much someone is paying attention to emotional information, such as a face that is happy or sad.

James and fellow researchers had of 7 to 11-year-old children talk about their child for five minutes. These statements were later coded for levels of criticism. They also measured the brain activity of the children as they viewed a series of pictures of faces showing different emotions. The researchers found that children of highly critical parents displayed less attention to all of the emotional facial expressions than children of parents displaying low levels of criticism.

Children of highly critical parents show less attention to emotional facial expressions, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University at New York. Credit: Binghamton University, State University at New York

"We know from previous research that people have a tendency to avoid things that make them uncomfortable, anxious, or sad because such feelings are aversive. We also know that children with a critical parent are more likely to use avoidant coping strategies when they are in distress than children without a critical parent," said James. "Given this research, and our findings that children with a critical parent pay less to all emotional facial expressions than children without a critical parent, one possible explanation is that the children with a critical parent avoid looking at any facial expressions of emotion. This may help them avoid exposure to critical expressions, and, by extension, the aversive feelings they might associate with parental . That said, it may also prevent them from seeing positive expressions from others."

The researchers hope to follow up these results with another study examining what happens in the brains of in real time when they are receiving positive and negative comments from their parents.

The paper, "Parental Expressed Emotion-Criticism and Neural Markers of Sustained Attention to Emotional Faces in Children," was published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

Explore further: Persistent ADHD associated with overly critical parents

More information: Kiera M. James et al, Parental Expressed Emotion-Criticism and Neural Markers of Sustained Attention to Emotional Faces in Children, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology (2018). DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2018.1453365

Related Stories

Persistent ADHD associated with overly critical parents

February 8, 2016
For many children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, symptoms appear to decrease as they age, but for some they do not and one reason may be persistent parental criticism, according to research published by the ...

Parental touch may reduce social anxiety in children

May 23, 2018
Parental touch reduces children's attention to social threat and increases trust, particularly in socially anxious children. As a result, parental touch may reduce children's social anxiety. These are the conclusions drawn ...

New facial recognition findings could help develop new treatments for conduct disorder

September 7, 2017
Teenage girls and boys with severe antisocial behaviour have difficulty recognising facial expressions and look less at important parts of the face, such as the eyes, when viewing faces, according to a new study published ...

Mothers and OCD children trapped in rituals have impaired relationships

April 10, 2012
A new study from Case Western Reserve University finds mothers tend to be more critical of children with obsessive-compulsive disorder than they are of other children in the family. And, that parental criticism is linked ...

New study shows emotional cost for parents who put on a happy face for their children

February 23, 2016
How do parents feel when they regulate their emotional expressions in ways that do not match their genuine feelings? Recent research suggests that parents' attempts to suppress negative and amplify positive emotions during ...

Quality of early family relationships predicts children's affect regulation and mental health

June 16, 2017
The birth of a child is often a long-awaited and deeply meaningful event for the parents. However, the transition to parenthood also forces the parents to revise their interparental romantic relationship and to answer the ...

Recommended for you

Videogame loot boxes similar to gambling

June 19, 2018
Adolescents playing video games that offer randomised rewards to increase competitive advantage could possibly be exposed to mechanisms that are psychologically similar to gambling, according to new research just published ...

Mental health declining among disadvantaged American adults

June 19, 2018
American adults of low socioeconomic status report increasing mental distress and worsening well-being, according to a new study by Princeton University and Georgetown University.

Study on social interactions could improve understanding of mental health risks

June 19, 2018
McLean Hospital investigators have released the results of a study that outlines how age, socioeconomic status, and other factors might contribute to social isolation and poorer mental health. In a paper published in the ...

Researchers find increased risk of birth defects in babies after first-trimester exposure to lithium

June 18, 2018
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found an elevated risk of major congenital malformations in fetuses after first-trimester exposure to lithium, in the largest study ever to examine the risk of ...

Changing room playlist could give World Cup teams the edge

June 18, 2018
Blasting out Rihanna or Kanye West could give World Cup squads that crucial psychological edge over rival teams, suggests research from Brunel University London.

Helicopter parenting may negatively affect children's emotional well-being, behavior

June 18, 2018
It's natural for parents to do whatever they can to keep their children safe and healthy, but children need space to learn and grow on their own, without Mom or Dad hovering over them, according to new research published ...

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.