Parents who don't want their baby boys to grow up emotionally
stunted may want to pocket their pacifiers during the daytime.
A new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests
frequent pacifier use during the day may disrupt the emotional
development of baby boys because it limits their opportunity to
mimic the facial expressions of others - a tool that may help them
better understand emotions and learn empathy.
The study assumes babies can't smile, pout or furrow a brow with
a pacifier in their mouths, and many parents may beg to differ with
Girls appear to make sufficient progress emotionally, despite
pacifier use, suggests the research published in Tuesday's issue of
the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.
Humans of all ages read each other's emotions partly by mimicking
their facial expressions, which helps them process what the person
is thinking and feeling by creating some part of the feeling for
themselves, says the study's lead author, Paula Niedenthal, a
University of Wisconsin psychology professor.
A baby with a pacifier in his mouth is less able to mirror
expressions and the emotions they represent, she said.
Niedenthal and her team of researchers conducted three studies to
test the relationship between pacifier use and emotional information
processing, both in the United States and in France.
In the first study, researchers found 6- and 7-year-old boys who
spent more time with pacifiers in their mouths as young children
were less likely to mimic the emotional expressions of faces in a
video they were shown. In the next study, college-aged men who
reported (by their own recollections or their parents') more
pacifier use as kids scored lower than their peers on common tests
of perspective-taking, one of many components of empathy.
The third study involved a group of college students who took a
standard emotional intelligence test measuring the way they make
decisions based on assessing the moods of other people. The men in
the group who had heavier pacifier use as babies scored lower.
"What's impressive about this is the incredible consistency
across those three studies in the pattern of data," Niedenthal said.
"There's no effect of pacifier use on these outcomes for girls, and
there's a detriment for boys with length of pacifier use even
outside of any anxiety or attachment issues that may affect
Why the gender difference?
"It could be that parents are inadvertently compensating for
girls using the pacifier because they want their girls to be
emotionally sophisticated," Niedenthal said. …