Mothers see their youngest as shorter than they are

December 16, 2013

Many parents say when their second child is born that their first child suddenly appears to have grown overnight. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on December 16 have an explanation: until the birth of the new child, those parents were subject to a "baby illusion," routinely misperceiving their youngest child as smaller (and younger) than he or she really was.

"Contrary to what many may think, this isn't happening just because the older child just looks so big compared to a baby," says Jordy Kaufman of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. "It actually happens because all along the parents were under an illusion that their first child was smaller than he or she really was. When the new baby is born, the spell is broken and parents now see their older child as he or she really is."

Kaufman and his colleagues made the discovery first by asking 747 mothers if they remembered experiencing a sudden shift in their first child's size after the birth of a new infant. The researchers found that 70% of the mothers did.

To further explore that perceptual shift, the researchers asked mothers to estimate the height of one of their young children (aged 2 to 6) by marking a blank wall. When the researchers compared those height estimations to the child's real height, they found something very interesting: mothers significantly underestimated the height of their youngest child by 7.5 cm on average. In contrast, height estimates for the eldest child were almost accurate.

"The key implication is that we may treat our youngest children as if they are actually younger than they really are," Kaufman says. "In other words, our research potentially explains why the 'baby of the family' never outgrows that label. To the parents, the baby of the family may always be 'the baby.'"

The findings are a useful reminder of just how filtered our own perceptions of the world around us can be.

"We cannot trust the accuracy of our perceptions," Kaufman says. "In this case, it shows that our feelings and knowledge of our children affect how we actually perceive them. But it's important to consider that this misperception may actually make it easier to quickly distinguish one's youngest child from the other children."
-end-
Current Biology, Kaufman et al.: "Parental misperception of youngest child size"

Cell Press

Related Children Articles from Brightsurf:

Black and Hispanic children in the US have more severe eczema than white children
A presentation at this year's virtual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reveals the disparities that exist for Black and Hispanic children when it comes to Atopic Dermatitis (AD), commonly known as eczema.

Black children with cancer three times less likely to receive proton radiotherapy than White children
A retrospective analysis led by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital has found racial disparities in the use of the therapy for patients enrolled in trials.

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: First Europe-wide study of children confirms COVID-19 predominately causes mild disease in children and fatalities are very rare
Children with COVID-19 generally experience a mild disease and fatalities are very rare, according to a study of 582 patients from across Europe published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.

Children not immune to coronavirus; new study from pandemic epicenter describes severe COVID-19 response in children
- While most children infected with the novel coronavirus have mild symptoms, a subset requires hospitalization and a small number require intensive care.

How many children is enough?
Most Russians would like to have two children: a boy and a girl.

Preterm children have similar temperament to children who were institutionally deprived
A child's temperament is affected by the early stages of their life.

Only-children more likely to be obese than children with siblings
Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child.

Children living in countryside outperform children living in metropolitan area in motor skills
Residential density is related to children's motor skills, engagement in outdoor play and organised sports. that Finnish children living in the countryside spent more time outdoors and had better motor skills than their age peers in the metropolitan area.

Hispanic and black children more likely to miss school due to eczema than white children
In a study that highlights racial disparities in the everyday impact of eczema, new research shows Hispanic and black children are more likely than white children to miss school due to the chronic skin disease.

Children, their parents, and health professionals often underestimate children's higher weight status
More than half of parents underestimated their children's classification as overweight or obese -- children themselves and health professionals also share this misperception, according to new research being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (April 28-May 1).

Read More: Children News and Children Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.