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For infants, stress may be caught, not taught
Date:1/31/2014

ted greater decreases in positive emotion and greater increases in negative emotion than did mothers in the other two conditions. They also showed signs of increased cardiac stress.

And the infants quickly picked up on this stress response: Infants whose mothers received negative feedback showed significant increases in heart rate relative to baseline within minutes of being reunited with their mothers.

Importantly, the infant's response tracked the mother's response that is, greater the mother's stress response, the greater the infant's stress response, an association that actually became stronger over time.

"Before infants are verbal and able to express themselves fully, we can overlook how exquisitely attuned they are to the emotional tenor of their caregivers," notes Waters. "Your infant may not be able to tell you that you seem stressed or ask you what is wrong, but our work shows that, as soon as she is in your arms, she is picking up on the bodily responses accompanying your emotional state and immediately begins to feel in her own body your own negative emotion."

The researchers note that there are a variety of different channels through which these emotions might be communicated, including odor, vocal tension, and facial expressions. Waters, Mendes, and colleagues are currently investigating the hypothesis that touch plays an important role in emotion contagion.

Ultimately, these findings shed light on how health and well-being can have long-term consequences, transferring across generations:

"A common question in public health circles is how stress and social environment 'gets under the skin' to affect health both at an individual and at a familial level," says Mendes. "With this admittedly modest study, we show a possible mechanism for how stress is transmitted from parent to child."


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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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