Stress in infancy triggers anxiety in teen years, study finds

Published: Friday, Nov. 16 2012 9:19 a.m. MST

Baby girls who have been exposed to stress at home are more likely to be more stressed themselves as children and more anxious as adolescents than those born to parents who are more more relaxed, according to a study published Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

"All of that evidence suggests, (study) authors explain, that the brains of baby girls living in stressed households may be shaped by that experience, as high levels of cortisol weakened the connection between those two mood-governing areas of the brain, and that that early experience may have a lasting influence," the Washington Post reported.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison analyzed the brain scans of 57 subjects — 28 female and 29 male — that came from the Wisconsin Study of Families and Work that began in the early 1990s.

"Initially the study was conducted to analyze the effects of maternity leave, day care and other factors on family stress," Medical Daily reported. "However, the data available from the study helped researchers find a relation between children growing up in stressed families and their anxiety levels."

Researchers found that being raised by a stressed mother impairs normal brain development of girls at later stages of life.

No such results were evident among male participants, the Washington Post reported. The phenomenon points to the need to intervene in the lives of baby girls living in stress-filled households.

“This will pave the way to better understanding of how the brain develops, and could give us insight into ways to intervene when children are young,” Dr. Richard Davidson told the PsychCentral website.

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at rachel.lowry@gmail.com or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.

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