Though researchers have identified how a mother’s stress can influence their baby’s behavior, a new study conducted by researchers from Washington State University found that geographic location can also come into play.
The researchers found that infants’ behavior and temperament were different depending on whether they were being raised in a rural or urban environment.
“I was shocked, quite frankly, at how little there was in the literature on the effects of raising an infant in a rural vs. urban environment,” said researcher Maria Gartstein. “The fact that rural mothers in our study reported more frequent expressions of anger and frustration from their infants may be consequential as higher levels of frustration in infancy can increase risk for later attentional, emotional, social, and behavioral problems.”
Rural vs. urban
To understand how babies’ behavior can be influenced by where they live, the researchers analyzed results from two earlier studies. Both studies explored infants’ behaviors and their relationships with their mothers, but the major difference was where the mothers lived.
In the first study, nearly 70 women from San Francisco participated; in the second study, 120 women from rural areas in Washington and Idaho were analyzed.
All of the women involved in the study were recorded during typical playtime activities with their infants. They also reported on the frequency that their babies displayed certain behaviors at two different check-ins: six months and one year old.
The study revealed that babies in rural areas were more likely to be fussy, whereas infants in urban areas were calmer and more pleasant overall.
The researchers believe that discrepancies in resources between rural and urban towns could be why babies respond differently to the same concerns. They explained that mothers in urban towns typically have more at their disposal, while mothers in rural towns have more limitations.
“This may be a result of different, but functionally equivalent, risk factors,” said Gartstein. “Whereas living in a big city generally brings more exposure or proximity to violent crime, isolation can also cause a great deal of stress for rural parents. This research opens up a lot of very interesting avenues of investigation.”