Want a Well-adjusted Kid? Try a Little Tenderness

July 27, 2010

New research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health shows that showering infants with affection has "long-lasting positive effects on mental health" that extend well into adulthood.

If there is one thing new parents don’t have to worry about, it’s giving babies too much warmth.

New research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health shows that showering infants with affection has “long-lasting positive effects on mental health” that extend well into adulthood.

Although the potential role of parent interaction in determining the child's subsequent resilience or vulnerability has been examined in the past, few studies have tracked participants from infancy to adult life.

In the study, Joanna Maselko of Duke University and colleagues analyzed data from 482 participants in the US Providence Rhode Island birth cohort of the National Collaborative Perinatal Project “to conduct a prospective study of the association between objectively measured affective quality of the mother-infant interaction and adult mental health.” Infant-mother interaction quality was rated at eight months by a psychologist, and adult emotional functioning was determined in participants at age 34 using a symptom checklist that captured both specific elements, such as anxiety and hostility, and general levels of distress.

The investigators found that high levels of maternal affection at eight months “were associated with significantly lower levels of distress in adult offspring,” and that “the strongest association was with the anxiety subscale.”

Therefore, it was concluded that “high levels of maternal affection are likely to facilitate secure attachments and bonding,” according to an online report of the study. “This not only lowers distress, but may also enable a child to develop effective life, social, and coping skills, which will stand them in good stead as adults,” said authors.