PARENTS

A Newborn Baby's Gaze Can Predict Behavioural Problems When They Grow Up, Scientists Reveal

01/07/2015 10:33 BST | Updated 01/07/2015 10:59 BST

The length of your baby's gaze could give you a clue as to whether they will suffer behavioural problems when they grow up, a new study has revealed.

Scientists in London and Italy from Birkbeck University of London, London Metropolitan University and the University of Padua analysed the gaze of newborn babies from one to four days old, then followed up the study when the babies were older.

They found babies who gazed at objects for shorter amounts of time were more likely to have behavioural problems aged three to 10 years old.

Senior author, Dr Angelica Ronald, from Birkbeck University of London, said: "We've found for the first time that there's a significant link between the way in which newborn babies look at images and their later temperament and behaviours in childhood, such as hyperactivity."

baby gaze

The study, published in Scientific Reports began in 2004, where Professor Teresa Farroni, studied the visual attention of 180 newborn babies in a maternity ward in Italy.

The babies were shown images while researchers measured their dwell time and attention span looking at them.

When the children were three to ten years old, 80 families were contacted as a follow up to see what their behaviour was like.

To measure this, parents rated their children's behaviour using qualitative psychological questionnaires.

They examined the child's ability to regulate emotion (called "effortful control"), "surgency" which was a tendency towards high levels of movement, and problematic behaviours.

The study found that babies who spent longer looking at each individual object as a newborn were associated with having fewer behaviour problems and fewer impulsive and overactive behaviours in middle childhood.

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Dr Ronald said that because these observations were made in babies who had just been born, it rules out influences of the environment on behaviour in some aspects.

She said: "We've found for the first time that there's a significant link between the way in which newborn babies look at images and their later temperament and behaviours in childhood, such as hyperactivity."

Past studies have found a link between differences in attention among seven-month-old infants and later childhood behavioural problems.

However this piece of research marks the first time the researchers have examined whether a similar link exists for newborns.

First author Dr Kostas A Papageorgiou, of London Metropolitan University's School of Psychology, said: 'While there are many factors which influence behavioural problems in childhood, our findings suggest that part of what affects later behaviour is already present at birth.

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