Does Using A Pacifier Delay Development?
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
Development & Learning
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My sons were encouraged to use a pacifier when they were babies. The older one liked his a lot and the younger one didn’t think much of the experience. Now a new study proposes that using a pacifier may delay a child’s ability to understand emotions and respond to others appropriately in social situations.
The study, published recently in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, evaluated the ability of 6- and 7-year old children to correctly identify the emotions of people presented in a video and to mimic those people’s facial expressions accurately. Researchers also measured the ability of college students on emotional intelligence and the ability to take someone else’s point-of-view. Then researchers compared participants’ scores to their parents’ memory of their children’s use of a pacifier as toddlers.
The study found that boys who were “heavy users” of pacifiers scored significantly less well on these tests of emotional responsiveness. It seemed that using a pacifier interfered with boys’ ability to practice emotions they see others express and this flattened their ability into the future to react appropriately to other people. For girls, using a pacifier made no difference.
Niedenthal notes that adults who have had Botox treatments and so lose the ability to move their facial muscles also lose emotional responsiveness. She says, “Botox users experience a narrower range of emotions and often have trouble identifying the emotions behind expressions on other faces.” This caused her to start thinking about factors that could interfere with infant emotional development in a similar way.
According to lead researcher Paula Niedenthal, using a pacifier to go to sleep isn’t a problem, since reacting to others’ faces isn’t part of drifting off to sleep. But she suggests that parents, especially parents of boys, should not rely on pacifiers to keep their children soothed during the day and they shouldn’t support a child’s pacifier habit past the first few months of life.
It’s possible, of course, that parents of older children, and especially of college students, might not remember their children’s pacifier use accurately. And children who felt a strong need for a pacifier as toddlers may have had completely different family experiences than children who didn’t, and these family differences might be more to blame for emotional disconnects than just using a pacifier. Certainly a follow-up study will shed more light on this issue. But in the meantime, limiting pacifier use during the day, especially for older babies and toddlers, might be a good idea.
It might make both you and your baby smile.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.