If you’re a critical parent, it may affect your children’s interactions with others.
According to new research conducted by students and faculty inBinghamton University’s psychology department, children of highly critical parents show less attention to emotional facial expressions.
Highly critical parents may have a significant impact on their children, increasing their risk fordepression and anxiety and affecting future relationships, according to the study.
The findings from this researchare included in a paper titled “Parental Expressed Emotion-Criticism and Neural Markers of Sustained Attention to Emotional Faces in Children,” published online in Mayinthe Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.
Kiera James, a graduate student in Binghamton University’s clinical psychology program, was the lead author of the paper.
James was initially a part of a larger study of relationships betweenparents and children ages 7 to 11, ledby her adviser, Brandon Gibb, a professor of psychology and director of clinical training at BU.
Using the same subjects from the larger study, James branched out about two years agoto study the effects of parental criticism on children.
“This was just a small component of that that I was really interested in,” James said in a phone interview Tuesday.
James conducted the studyalong with Gibb, Max Owens, Mary L. Woody andNathan T. Hall.
This separate study focused on two elements: parental criticism and brain activity of children.
The team measured parental criticism by using a five-minute speech sample, where parents spoke for five minutes uninterruptedabout their child and their relationship with the child.
Transcripts from the five-minute speech sample were then coded for parental criticism.
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To measure brain activity, the team used an EEG test (electroencephalogram) to examine the electrical activity in the brain that occurs when neurons fire. Brain activity was measured as the childrenviewed a series of pictures of faces showing different emotions.
“We were looking specifically at an event-related potential component that indicates sustained attention,” James said. “So, sustained attention to any sort of emotional stimulus like facial expressions of emotion.”
One way to look at attention is through a neural marker called the Late Positive Potential (LPP), which provides a measure of how much someone is paying attention to emotional information, such as a face that is happy or sad.
When measuring the two components, the team found that children with highly critical parents were less responsiveto emotional facial expressions.
“We think that these children with the critical parents might be avoiding paying attention to faces that express any type of emotion based on these findings,” James said.
One explanation may be that children with critical parents may avoid looking at facial expressions that convey emotion because it might help them avoid exposure to critical expressions and bad feelings.
“People tend to avoid things that make them uncomfortable or anxious or sad,” James said. “Because those feelings don’t make us feel good.”
While some children may be able to adapt to this, avoiding only negative expressions,avoidance of all facial expressions may prevent children from seeing positive expressions.
This could affect the children’s future relationships and may be one reason why children exposed to high levels of criticism are at risk of things like depression and anxiety.
“If they’re just paying less attention to facial expressions in general, it could change how they are interacting with others,” James said.
James, who just completed the master’s portion of the university’s psychology program, has three more years to complete the PhD program. Sheplans to continue to work with her research on parental criticism and hopes to investigate how kids’ reactivity differs indifferent parent/child interactions and emotional stimuli based on whether or not their parents are critical.
The most recent findingsemphasizethe fact that our experiences impact the way we process future information, James said.
“So, we can develop potential biases to different types of information, like emotional stimuli, based on the things that we’ve experienced in our lives,” James said. “Whether that is something like parental criticism or something like physical abuse, these experiences really do shape how we process and perceive information.”
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