It has long been believed that positive emotions are retained longer than unpleasant ones. A recent Brigham Young University study may have not only proven this to be true, but has found that they are more likely to be remembered in infants. While parents have always been encouraged to play and talk to their babies, it has generally been thought that nothing is consciously remembered for very long during one’s first year of life. However, the BYU study has found that not only do positive emotions make it more likely for babies to remember something a day later, but increase their memory and ability to process information.
Published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development, the study showed that five-month-olds were more likely to remember something if there was a positive memory attached to it, suggesting that they retain more memories than had previously been thought. The infants were set in front of a screen in a partition and then subjected to a person on the screen speaking to them with either a happy, neutral or angry voice. Immediately after, they were shown a geometric shape while the authors monitored the infants’ eye movements and how long they looked at it. The authors did follow-up tests five minutes later and again a day later, consisting of an image of two side-by-side geometric shapes (a new one as well as the original).
Since five-month-olds cannot talk, the researchers looked at how many times the baby looked from one image to the next. Although other studies have focused on the influence of emotional effect on infants, the authors pointed out that this study was the first to examine how it influences memory.
“We think what happens is that the positive effect heightens the babies’ attentional system and arousal. By heightening those systems, we heighten their ability to process and perhaps remember this geometric pattern,” said Professor Ross Flom, lead author of the study.
The authors discovered that the babies’ memories did not improve if the shape had been paired with a negative voice; however, they performed significantly better at remembering shapes attached to positive voices. Although there was no noticeable adverse effect on cognitive development in the five-month-old participants, the study observed memory changes in a 24-hour period. There is a growing body of research suggesting that there are long term effects from a lack of contact with babies, making it possible that negative interaction can lead to developmental issues in adulthood as well.
Touch deprivation and memory
Despite a lack of touch deprivation studies on human subjects, cultural studies have shown that little physical affection towards infants is associated with higher rates of adult violence than in cultures that are more open to physical contact. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on overcrowded orphanages has provided support for this theory, finding that despite being appropriately fed, the infants experienced delays in physical growth and neurobehavioral development in addition to elevated rates of infection. However, there were other factors that were not taken into consideration such as a primary caregiver or a stimulating environment, leaving the possibility open that these developmental issues were caused by something other than touch deprivation.
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Written by Chase Beckwith, Sovereign Health Group writer
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