Nav: Home

Infants born prematurely may show less interest in others

March 31, 2016

Attention to other people is a fundamental role for social cognitive development in the early stages of life. However, infants born prematurely show a different attentional pattern.

In a new study, a Kyoto University team found evidence that such babies are less interested in other people compared to infants born full-term, when tested at 6 and 12 months of age. This new study brings light to the links between premature birth, development of social communication skills, and ultimately autism.

Recent studies illustrate that infants born prematurely are at more risk of autism.

"Autism occurs from a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Preterm infants get a tremendous amount of stress in the early days of birth, because the environment is profoundly different from that of the womb," says Masako Myowa-Yamakoshi, who heads the team. "This make them much more prone to developmental difficulties, even if they seem perfectly fine when they leave the hospital."

Lead author Masahiro Imafuku adds that a lack of interest in social stimuli -- for instance, another person -- could be an early sign for whether preterm infants are following a path toward atypical social development. "We examined interest in social stimuli in preterm and full-term babies by following their gaze with an eye tracker," he explains.

In the first part of the study, the researchers simultaneously displayed videos showing people and geometric patterns to 6- and 12-month old infants, testing which videos the infants preferred. Gaze signifies interest, meaning that the longer time spent looking at the people video, the more interest there is in others. This technique revealed that full-term infants spent more time looking at the people video, but a significant number of preterm babies at term-equivalent ages showed more interest in the geometric motion.

In a second task, the team examined how well infants could follow the gaze of other people. "Being able to follow where other person is looking is related to understanding of others' intention, and of language acquisition," says Imafuku. Much like in the first task, 6-month-old full-term infants followed the gazes of people in the video, whereas preterm infants showed difficulty.

The team points out that, significantly, interest in other people and following eye directions does develop in most preterm infants from 6 to 12 months. This, when coupled with another study, indicates that the nervous systems of several preterm babies may develop in radically different ways from that of a full-term babies in the first year of life.

In a related study the researchers found that preterm babies cry with a shrill, high pitch. This is because the activity of the vagus nerve -- one of the main parasympathetic nerves -- is weak in preterm infants compared to full-term babies.

"The low activity of the vagus nerve makes the vocal cords contract excessively," says Yuta Shinya, who authored the second study. "The distinct shrill of preterm babies reflects the activity of this nerve, which is related to the regulation of heart and throat function, health, and cognitive abilities. We're looking into whether the shrill cries correlate with atypical cognitive development in infancy."

"Preterm birth incidence is rising in developed countries like Japan, since people increasingly give birth at an older age, and given assumed risks with IVF," says Myowa-Yamakoshi. "We hope that studies like ours contribute to earlier diagnoses, so that we can offer appropriate support at as early a stage as possible."
-end-
The paper "Preference for Dynamic Human Images and Gaze-Following Abilities in Preterm Infants at 6 and 12 Months of Age: An Eye-Tracking Study" appeared 31 March 2016 in Infancy, with doi: 10.1111/infa.12144

Kyoto University is one of Japan and Asia's premier research institutions, founded in 1897 and responsible for producing numerous Nobel laureates and winners of other prestigious international prizes. A broad curriculum across the arts and sciences at both undergraduate and graduate levels is complemented by numerous research centers, as well as facilities and offices around Japan and the world. For more information please see: http://www.kyoto-u.ac.jp/en

See also: http://www.kyoto-u.ac.jp/en/research/research_results/FY2016/160401_1/

Kyoto University

Related Infants Articles:

Premature infants at greater risk of SIDS
Premature infants still have a greater risk compared to full-term babies of dying of SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics that hospital NICU's provide more safe infant sleep education to parents before they go home.
Detecting autism in infants before symptoms emerge
According to the results of a new study, a brain scan can detect functional changes in babies as young as six months of age that predicts later diagnosis with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Rotavirus vaccination in infants and young children
Rotaviruses (RV) are the commonest cause of diarrhea in infants and young children worldwide.
A mother's voice may help stabilize preterm infants
A recent review of published research indicates that hearing their mother's voice can benefit the health of preterm infants.
Healthy weight gain in infants
With nearly 10 percent of infants considered 'high weight for length,' University of Delaware researcher Jillian Trabulsi wants to help babies achieve a healthy weight starting with their first months of life.
Mothers and infants connect through song
Research from UM Frost School of Music provides insight into the importance of song for infants and mothers.
Infants use prefrontal cortex in learning
A group of 8-month-olds has provided evidence that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the prefrontal cortex contributes to learning during infancy.
Very premature infants: Towards better care
Born too soon, very premature infants are particularly vulnerable and need appropriate care.
Maternal vaccination again influenza associated with protection for infants
How long does the protection from a mother's immunization against influenza during pregnancy last for infants after they are born?
Infants much less likely to get the flu if moms are vaccinated while pregnant
Babies whose moms were vaccinated against the flu while pregnant had a 70 percent reduction in confirmed flu cases compared with infants whose moms weren't immunized, study finds.

Related Infants Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".