How babies experience fear is impacted by bacteria
According to a study conducted by Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the reason why some babies react more strongly to perceived danger lies in the infant’s digestive system.
We can find in the human digestive tract the intestinal microbiota which is a diverse bacterial community. According to the research team from Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the intestinal microbiota of newborns with high terror reactions and newborns with low or middle terror reactions differed.
These fear responses, or how a person reacts when confronted with a stressful situation, could be indicators of psychological health in the future. There is mounting evidence that intestinal microbiota is linked to neurological health.
The gut microbiota, according to this new study, may one day provide researchers and doctors with a new way to assess and promote healthy brain development.
How did the study about the fear reaction in babies go?
The study was done on animal first and after studying it in animals, Rebecca Knickmeyer, the study’s lead author and an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Human Development at the College of Human Medicine, and her colleagues decided to investigate this relationship and its significance in the response to fear in humans. Understanding how people react to fear, particularly young children, may help predict mental health in some cases.
Reactions to fear are normal in a child’s development, according to the researchers. Children should be mindful of the potential threats in their surroundings and be prepared to respond. They are more likely to develop depression and anxiety later in life if they are unable to control their reaction while they are safe. Children with unusually attenuated fear responses may develop insensitive, emotionless traits in common with antisocial behaviour., according to Knickmeyer.
Knickmeyer and her colleagues conducted a pilot study with 30 newborns to see if the intestinal microbiota was associated with the response to fear in humans. The researchers chose the group with care to preserve as many elements that influence the intestinal microbiota as possible. For instance, all of the children were nursed and received no antibiotics.
The researchers then used stool samples to define the children’s microbiome, and a straightforward test to determine the child’s terror response: observe how a child reacted when a stranger entered the room wearing a Halloween mask
What are the results of this study about the fear reaction in babies?
After analysing all of the data, significant links have been discovered between specific aspects of the intestinal microbiota and the severity of newborns’ anxiety reactions.
Children with patchy microbiomes at one-month-old, for example, were more fearful by one-year-old. A small number of bacteria dominate unbalanced microbiomes, while balanced microbiomes have a more diverse bacterial community.
According to the results, the content of the microbial community around a year was also linked to the emotions of fear. Infants who reacted strongly had higher levels of some bacteria and lower levels of others than less fearful infants.
According to the researchers, there was no link between children’s gut microbiota and their reaction to unknown people who weren’t wearing masks. This is likely due to the different areas of the brain which is involved in dealing with potentially frightening events, according to Knickmeyer.
There is a social component to dealing with unknown people. Children may experience social phobias, but they do not perceive strangers as immediate threats. Children do not consider a mask to be social when they see one. It travels to a portion of the brain responsible for quickly assessing situations.
The researchers also used MRI technology to take images of children’s brains. After a year, they found that the content of the microbial community was related to the amygdala size, an area of the brain involved in making quick decisions in the face of potential danger.
To conclude, the microbiome can influence the development and function of the amygdala by connecting the research dots. This is just one of the many intriguing possibilities raised by the study, which the researchers is now replicating. Ms Knickmeyer is also eager to broaden her research horizons at IQ by forming new collaborations and posing new research questions. She mentioned that they have an excellent opportunity to support brain health early on and that their greatest challenge is to learn how to support development and healthy growth.
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