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Arguing Can Influence Babies’ Development

Update Date: Mar 27, 2013 01:55 PM EDT

Arguing within earshot of babies who may not understand language just yet could negatively influence babies' development. Even though babies are not actively being taught or even addressed to, their brains continue to pick up on the surrounding noises within the environment, which can negatively or positively affect growth. According to a new study, sleeping babies who hear people arguing learn to process emotional tones and react to different responses distinctively despite being asleep. The researchers recorded that arguing near a baby can increase the baby's stress levels, which could have detrimental effects on development.

The study evaluated the brain scans of 20 infants who were from the ages of six months to one-year-old. The lead researcher, Alice Graham and her research team wanted to observe how certain environmental factors, especially family stability, influence children's cognitive growth.

"We were interested in whether or not a common source of early stress in children's lives - conflict between parents - is associated with how infants' brains function," Graham, who is from the University of Oregon stated.

The research team used magnetic resonance imaging, which is a technique that uses blood flow to help measure brain activity. The scanner is not invasive and did not lead to any adverse reactions from the infants. The researchers scanned the sleeping infants under different scenarios presented by a man who read sentences in different emotional tones. The man was asked to portray angry, slightly angry, happy, or neutral emotions. The researchers found that every different emotional tone led to a different pattern of brain activity in the infant, indicating that the baby can differentiate between tones during their sleep.  They also noticed that infants who were in households with a higher conflict rate picked up the angry emotion at a great rate than babies who lived in households with conflict. The researchers believe that the babies' that automatically picked up on the angry tones more frequently resulted in experiencing more stress.

Although the sample set was very small in this study, previous findings done in animals showed that an increase response toward anger was linked to stress, and stress has often been attributed to having negative side effects. The researchers stressed that even though the amount of stress and its effect on the infants cannot be measured, parents should be aware of the fact that their heated debates can influence their infants regardless of whether or not they are awake.

The study will be published in Psychological Science.

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