Because stress seems to be a widely spread aspect of modern society, it’s important to investigate its causes and effects. Researchers of the University of Wisconsin-Madison did and came to an alarming conclusion. Stress levels of mothers appear to affect the stress hormone levels and brain connections of their baby daughters, lasting at least until the girls are teenagers.
In 1990 and 1991 the saliva of 57 preschoolers of both sexes was tested for levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The children’s mothers were interviewed about their feelings of stress, like marital conflict, parenting frustration or financial stress. 14 years later the same subjects were tested again, with brainscans and interviews. The results are published in Nature Neuroscience.
The researchers found that if mothers reported higher general levels of stress, their daughters often had a high cortisol level at the age of four. These girls later showed less communication between two parts of the brain that control negative emotions, which in turn explained 65 percent of the girls teenage anxiety levels.
These results raise important questions about how to better support young families, the researchers say. But what about the boys? It is not surprising that family stress does not seem to affect them as much as girls. Boys generally have less mood and anxiety disorders, especially in adolescence.
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