Arguing parents make babies’ brains more sensitive to stress

Babies are affected by parents' arguments even when asleep. (pic: istockphoto.com/OSTILL)

Babies are affected by parents’ arguments even when asleep. (pic: istockphoto.com/OSTILL)

Growing up in a volatile household where the parents argue can affect the way a baby’s brain processes emotional tone of voice. Young children can respond to an angry voice even if the arguments happen when they are asleep.

That’s the key finding of a study from the University of Oregon, which did MRI tests on 20 babies aged six to 12 months. While asleep, the children heard sentences spoken in very angry, mildly angry, happy and neutral tones of voice by a man.

The research found that infants’ brains still respond to the emotional tone of voice they hear. “Infants from high-conflict homes showed greater reactivity to very angry tone of voice in brain areas linked to stress and emotion regulation,” say the researchers. They conclude: “Babies are not oblivious to parental conflicts, and exposure to them may influence the way babies’ brains process emotion and stress.”

This could provide an explanation for adults who are more prone to suffering stress, and it may make parents think twice before arguing in front of their kids.

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