LOS ANGELES (MCT) — You may want to think twice before sticking that pacifier back in your baby boy's mouth: Three new studies, published Tuesday as a single research report, find that heavy pacifier use leads to stunted emotional development among males.
The researchers, led by scientists from the University of Wisconsin, did not spend years tracking a single group of kids from infancy through adulthood. Instead, they conducted three separate experiments that attempted to get at the same developmental stages.
First, they found that 6- and 7-year-old boys who used pacifiers commonly when they were younger were less likely than other boys to mimic the smiles and frowns of faces on a video screen in front of them – a test of kids' interpersonal empathy.
The next two studies used the age-old psychology research study group: college students. The researchers asked the students (who likely asked their parents) how often they used pacifiers when they were little. They then gave the students a test of what's called "perspective taking," which is the ability to assume someone else's point of view and is often stunted in people with autism. Finally, they also gave college students a test of emotional intelligence, which required them to make decisions that relied on understanding the feelings of others.
In both cases, heavy pacifier use was associated with poor scores.
Interestingly, the effect was only found in boys, and the researchers will have to conduct further studies to determine why. One theory is that girls' parents better compensate for the pacifier by engaging with their kids more emotionally than they do with boys, though it is also possible that girls are inherently better able to cope.