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Children of anxious mothers may spend more time concentrating on threats, finds study

Posted on 10-13-2017 Posted in Anxiety - 0 Comments

“A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.” The famous quote by Aesop explains how it feels to live with anxiety. To take this further, a recent study has revealed that babies born to anxious mothers may spend more time concentrating on threats they perceive.

A group of researchers in their study, titled “Maternal anxiety predicts attentional bias towards threat in infancy,” used eye-tracking technology to evaluate the time babies spent looking at happy, neutral and annoyed expressions. The study, published recently in the journal Emotion, revealed how kids brought up by anxiety-ridden mothers found it increasingly difficult to look away from an angry face that they could have perceived as a threat compared to babies with not so anxious moms. Authors said that the findings could help pave the way for further studies aimed at researching on factors responsible for anxiety later in life.

The researchers focused on 98 babies aged between four and 24 months. While the mothers were inquired about their anxiety levels, the babies were placed before a screen fitted with an eye tracker. As the babies focused on the monitor showing happy, neutral and angry faces, their gazes were measured one at a time. Once the babies were focused on a face, a second image was shown to distract them.

Elucidating the findings, Koraly Pérez-Edgar, one of the co-authors of the study, said, “By the time you’re a few months old, a reflex develops where you’ll automatically turn and look if something pops up in your peripheral vision. This became a conflict for the babies, because they were focused on the face but then had this reflex to turn and look.”

The study showed the correlations between the levels of anxiety in the mother with the time spent by a toddler looking at the angry faces. The findings indicated how babies of anxious mothers spent more time looking at the angry faces before turning their focus on the image in their peripheral vision, suggesting that such toddlers found it increasingly difficult to detach their attention from a potential threat lurking in their environment.

The results also showed that the age of the babies did not matter, pinpointing at a possible genetic trend. While finding a mutual association between maternal anxiety and babies’ perception of threat, the researchers shared that the study did not indicate in any way that babies were learning to pay greater focus on threat from their anxious mothers. Previous studies have shown how focusing excessively on threat could possibly aggravate anxiousness, while indulging in therapeutic interventions could help lower anxiety levels.

Getting rid of anxiety problems

The findings of the study are significant as they gave essential clues about how anxiety problems develop in children. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of India (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million people aged 18 and older every year. The ADAA also reports that though anxiety disorder is treatable, only 36.9 percent of those grappling with the mental condition receive treatment.

Anxiety is a serious problem that needs to be treated timely. Early diagnosis ensures complete recovery from any kind of mental illnesses, including anxiety. Sovereign Health of Florida is a leading mental health care provider that offers evidence-based anxiety disorder treatment. For more information on our anxiety disorder treatment center in Florida or to locate our state-of-the-art facilities near you, call our 24/7 helpline number. For immediate assistance, you can even chat online with one of our representatives.

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The dual diagnosis program was what attracted me to Sovereign Health. My therapist was always open for discussion and the group sessions were very informative and educational.

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