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What’s ‘Emotionally Stunting’ Boys?

By on September 27, 2012
black baby

Ask most parents of a crying baby and they will tell you the pacifier is a beloved invention, right up there with the iPhone. That’s why there’s been confusion and frustration when  researchers revealed a link to heavy pacifier use among baby  boys and poor emotional maturity in adulthood. Somebody is changing the rules. Pacifiers are supposed to be a safe bet, right?

Lead author Paula Niedenthal, a psychology professor at the University of  Wisconsin-Madison, said a baby with a pacifier in its mouth is less able to  mirror expressions — a child’s first communication. This inability can hinder or stunt development and even reach into adult years in some cases.

The researchers found 6- and 7-year-old boys who had spent more time with  pacifiers in their mouths when younger were less likely to mimic the emotional  expressions of faces peering out from a video.

In addition, college-age 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, a component of empathy, Niedenthal said.

The study, published in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology,  found college students who had been heavier users of pacifiers when young scored  lower on a standard emotional intelligence test measuring the way they make  decisions based on assessing moods of others than those who had not used  pacifiers as much. Ironically, the pacifier effect was not noted in girls. It’s believed that girls  possibly make sufficient progress in emotional development before or  despite pacifier use.

“It could be that parents are inadvertently compensating for girls using the  pacifier, because they want their girls to be emotionally sophisticated. Because  that’s a girly thing,” Niedenthal said. “Since girls are not expected to be  unemotional, they’re stimulated in other ways. But because boys are desired to  be unemotional, when you plug them up with a pacifier, you don’t do anything to  compensate and help them learn about emotions.”


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