The Los Angeles Times reports that a triple study of “heavy pacifier use” in males is linked to an inability to properly interpret and understand emotion. The researchers, who worked with University of Wisconsin scientists, initially determined that 6- and 7-year-old boys who loved the binkie were less likely to copy facial expression from a video. This exercise is reportedly “a test of kids’ interpersonal empathy.” Next, researchers moved on to college kids:
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.
The consistent results between all three studies have researchers feeling pretty confident in their findings. Although the prevalence among boys, and not girls, does have them floating several theories, they asterisk it all with a simple, “more research is needed.” The frontrunners so far are that parents engage “more emotionally” with their daughters than their sons to begin with, or that girls are “inherently” more adept to cope with emotions. Either way, a pacifier does present some concerning challenges for baby’s development:
Infancy is considered a “critical period” for many human skills and capacities, including emotional and interpersonal development. That means that if we don’t have the right exposure or the right experiences when we’re little, we may never have them at all. And if infants have pacifiers in their mouths all the time, they are unable to mimic faces and have social interactions that rely on facial expressions — both believed to be essential building blocks of social and emotional development…And it is possible that the correlation the researchers discovered goes even deeper — which would be true if children genetically predisposed to autism or autistic traits exhibited behaviors, like crying, more likely to lead to a parent giving them a pacifier in the first place.
Time to start chucking all those pacifiers in a box and packing them up for the next 5-year cycle of parenting taboos. You know, just until another round of studies vilifies mobiles or something.