The more a mother showers her infant child with warmth and affection, the less anxiety, hostility and general distress the child will ultimately grow up to harbor as an adult, recent research indicates.
The finding is based on the tracking of 482 children from the age of eight months all the way up to an average age of 34 years. The results suggest that maternal affection at a very young age can have a critical long-range impact on mental health and emotional coping skills.
Study author Joanna Maselko, PhD, of Duke University and her colleagues first assessed the children at eight months of age in terms of their developmental progress. In turn, the mothers were assessed for their reaction to their child's test results and how well they reacted to their child's exam "performance."
At the same time, the degree of maternal af fection and attention displayed toward the children was also assessed, and rated ranging from "negative" to "extravagant" levels.
Ten percent of the mothers were deemed to have offered their children very low levels of affection, while 85% had offered a so-called "normal" degree of warmth. Six percent showered their child with what the investigators determined was a very high amount of maternal affection.
Flash forward a few decades, and the children-now adults were assessed for feelings of anxiety, hostility and general distress levels.
When stacking up maternal affection during infancy against the emotional state of mind of the now fully grown adults, Dr. Maselko and her colleagues found that those children who had been exposed to the most affection had the lowest levels of anxiety, hostility and general distress.
By contrast, children who had been exposed to the least amount of affection as infants had the highest degree of those qualities, which can contribute to emotional instability and insecurity, the researchers said.
The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Maternal affection may enable and promote the healthy development of bonding and emotional attachments, which may help a child to develop social skills that are key to coping with general stress and anxiety.
"These findings suggest that early nurturing and warmth have long-lasting positive effects on mental health well into adulthood," the researchers concluded.