Research Suggests That Pacifiers Help Turn Baby Boys Into Emotionless Robocops Later in Life


A new study so hot and fresh out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison that Bucky Badger singed his adorable little paws on when he took it out of the lab suggests that pacifiers stunt the emotional development of baby boys by robbing them of the opportunity to mimic adults by refining their Jim Carrey rubber faces. Since a big part of learning emotional cues for infants involves observing and mimicking adults’ facial expressions, boys who log a lot of pacifier time could experience a deficit of emotional intelligence as a direct result of having a rubber nipple stuffed into their mouths too often.

ScienceDaily already points out that the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics already caution parents to limit pacifier deployment, citing growing concerns over connections between pacifier use and ear infections, dental abnormalities, or diminished breastfeeding. Now, according to UW-Madison psychology professor and lead author of the latest pacifier = stone-faced male stoics study Paula Niedenthal, too much pacifier time for baby boys can prevent them from engaging in a key stage of human emotional development: miming their adult caretakers.

By reflecting what another person is doing, you create some part of the feeling yourself. That’s one of the ways we understand what someone is feeling — especially if they seem angry, but they’re saying they’re not; or they’re smiling, but the context isn’t right for happiness.

Niedenthal adds that, since babies can only speak in a secret Rugrats language of gibberish phrases, mimicry is the first (and possibly most formative) way for them to plug into the big, terrifying world they’ve suddenly found themselves in. In a survey of college students, Niedenthal and her colleagues found that men who reported (based on their own or parents’ recollections) heavy pacifier use as infants, scored significantly lower than their peers on a test of perspective-taking, which is a key component of empathy. Additionally, researchers found that six to seven-year-old boys who spent more time sucking on pacifiers as infants were less likely to mimic the emotional expressions of faces in a video.

Most remarkably, Niedenthal and her team found that girls that logged heavy pacifier use didn’t experience the same emotional lag, something that researchers are especially keen to follow up on. Though Niedenthal supposes that the different ways in which girls develop could mean that they’ve already acquired sufficient emotional intelligence prior to when parents start stifling their senseless sobs with pacifiers, she also suspects that gender normative parenting might also have something to do with the difference between the effects pacifiers have on boys and girls:

It could be that parents are inadvertently compensating for girls using the pacifier, because they want their girls to be emotionally sophisticated. Because that’s a girly thing. Since girls are not expected to be unemotional, they’re stimulated in other ways. But because boys are desired to be unemotional, when you plug them up with a pacifier, you don’t do anything to compensate and help them learn about emotions.

Then again, if you’d rather have your infant son grow up to be a perfectly emotionless universal soldier, the incongruous logic seems to go that he’ll be better prepared for the future space wars if he spends more time with his Binky.

Pacifiers May Have Emotional Consequences for Boys [ScienceDaily]

Image via Dmitriy Shironosov/Shutterstock.

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