A new study found that the emotional development of baby boys may be damaged if they use pacifiers because the common device actually stops infants from experimenting with facial expressions when they are very young.
University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers performed three separate investigations into how pacifier use damages the emotional development in babies. The trial is the first of its kind to link psychological outcomes to pacifier use, reports Medical News Today.
As mimicry of body language, facial expressions, and movement helps babies learn to express their own emotions; pacifiers play a role in hindering a baby’s learning in this area, providing parents with yet another reason to limit pacifier use.
“We can talk to infants,” said Paula Niedenthal, lead author of the study, “But at least initially they aren’t going to understand what the words mean. So the way we communicate with infants at first is by using the tone of our voice and our facial expressions.”
The study showed that men of college age who reported using pacifiers when they were babies scored lower on common emotional intelligence tests than those who did not or who didn’t use pacifiers much. Curiously, girls are not hindered by the pacifier due to potentially developing earlier, differently, or regardless of pacifier use.
“What’s impressive about this is the incredible consistency across those three studies in the pattern of data. 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 emotional development,” continued Niedenthal.
Interestingly, parental response to the study has been mostly negative.
“Parents hate to have this discussion,” said Niedenthal. “They take the results very personally. Now, these are suggestive results, and they should be taken seriously. But more work needs to be done.”
Still, Niedenthal says that pacifier use is not a bad thing; it’s just a matter of when:
“Probably not all pacifiers use is bad at all times, so how much is bad and when? We already know from this work that nighttime pacifier use doesn’t make a difference, presumably because that isn’t a time when babies are observing and mimicking our facial expressions anyway. It’s not learning time.”
She continued with some practical advice, empowering parents with discretion:
“I’d just be aware of inhibiting any of the body’s emotional representational systems. Since a baby is not yet verbal – and so much is regulated by facial expression – at least you want parents to be aware of that using something like a pacifier limits their baby’s ability to understand and explore emotions. And boys appear to suffer from that limitation.”
Do you have a baby boy? Does he use a pacifier?