Carrying a Baby Calms it Down – in People and in Mice
Most parents understand that picking up and cuddling a crying infant is the quickest way to calm the infant down.
That’s not earth-shattering news. Nor does it qualify as a “current event.”
However, in a May 1, 2013 post on Science News for Kids, author Stephen Ornes writes that researchers at Riken Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan have been able to identify how being carried changes vital processes in a baby’s body.
The researchers found that crying, movement, and heart rates of infants increased dramatically when infants were put in a crib. These measures decreased when the babies were picked up and held by their mother sitting in a chair and decreased further still when the mother walked around the room carrying their child.
The researchers also looked at the behavior of newborn mice – when the mice were picked up by their neck by their mother, they tucked their tail and became still. Their heart rates also slowed. You’ve probably seen similar responses in kittens or puppies, but the researchers did an interesting test: they administered a drug to the necks of the mice that made the mouse pups unable to feel their mother’s mouse. When picked up in this conditions, the mice continued to squirm.
This current event grades out at a 6.7 grade level on the Flesch-Kinkaid and what I really like about it for a science classroom is the straight-forward description of how the researchers ran their investigation. For instance, from the article:
Kumi Kuroda, from the Riken Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan, led the new study. Kuroda studies how parent-infant relationships in mammals affect the brain.
Other scientists had sought effective ways to calm distressed babies. Kuroda says she’s the first, however, to study how being carried changes vital processes in a baby’s body.
For the new experiments, her team attached heart monitors to 12 healthy babies, all less than 6 months old. (A heart monitor measures how fast a heart beats.) Mothers were told to hold their babies while sitting in a chair or walking around the room, or to lay them in a crib. The scientists recorded these three actions on video. Crying, movement and heart rate all shot up when the babies were in the crib. They calmed immediately when their moms picked them up and started walking. Holding a baby while sitting in a chair calmed babies less than holding them while walking, but more than placing them in a crib.
I think this would make a great article to read when talking about experimental design: variables, control groups, and even hypothesis writing.
Some possible class discussion starters – or questions to help focus the reading for your students:
- What do you think the researcher’s hypothesis might have been in the human baby study?
- In the study with the human babies, what was the independent variable? What were the dependent variables?
- What did the researchers test the effect of in the mice study? What do you think their hypothesis might have been?
- Pretend you are the researcher of either study. Write a conclusion statement that summarizes your findings.
Below are links to the article in its entirety in Word format and a separate discussion question worksheet for your classroom use.