Different patterns of visual attention in new-born babies may be associated with variations in temperament and behaviour in later childhood, suggests a study in Scientific Reports this week. The findings indicate that the development of behavioural difficulties later in childhood may be partly explained by behaviours already present within a few days after birth, although more-detailed studies are required before firm conclusions can be drawn.
Recent research in infants aged between four and ten months has linked the increased ability to hold visual fixations to stimuli with better control of behaviour and reduced restlessness, hyperactivity and inattention. In collaboration, the team of authors demonstrate that a link between visual attention and variation in such behaviours may be evident even earlier. They measured dwell time (the duration of a gaze on an individual stimulus) in 80 new-born babies aged 1-4 days old and performed a follow-up analysis of parent-completed questionnaires about their children’s behaviour and temperament at 5-9 years old.
The authors note that their study has some limitations, such as the method used to measure visual attention (they chose to assess dwell time because measuring fixation is challenging in new-borns) and suggest higher-resolution measurements could improve future investigations of the associations that they have identified. They also suggest that parents' reports of their children’s behaviour and temperament may include some biases, which could be addressed by collecting a range of different measurements of behaviour.