November 05, 2004
IQ Lower In Babies Who Engage In Prolonged Crying

A team at the US National Institues of Health working with researchers in Norway has found that babies who cry for a long time turned out at age 5 to have much lower IQs than the control group.

BACKGROUND: Long term studies of cognitive development and colic have not differentiated between typical colic and prolonged crying. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate whether colic and excessive crying that persists beyond 3 months is associated with adverse cognitive development. DESIGN: Prospective cohort study. A sample of 561 women was enrolled in the second trimester of pregnancy. Colic and prolonged crying were based on crying behaviour assessed at 6 and 13 weeks. Children's intelligence, motor abilities, and behaviour were measured at 5 years (n = 327). Known risk factors for cognitive impairment were ascertained prenatally, after birth, at 6 and 13 weeks, at 6, 9, and 13 months, and at 5 years of age. RESULTS: Children with prolonged crying (but not those with colic only) had an adjusted mean IQ that was 9 points lower than the control group. Their performance and verbal IQ scores were 9.2 and 6.7 points lower than the control group, respectively. The prolonged crying group also had significantly poorer fine motor abilities compared with the control group. Colic had no effect on cognitive development. CONCLUSIONS: Excessive, uncontrolled crying that persists beyond 3 months of age in infants without other signs of neurological damage may be a marker for cognitive deficits during childhood. Such infants need to be examined and followed up more intensively.

This work confirms the work of Professor Dieter Wolke in the UK and Professor Wolke thinks the crying is a symptom rather than a cause of the underyling problem.

In 2002, a team of UK researchers, led by Professor Dieter Wolke at Bristol University, found children who had cried excessively as babies, beyond three months, were 14 times more likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and do worse at school as eight year olds.

Professor Wolke said: "This confirms what we found.

"Now there really is more certainty there is really something going on."

He believes the core of the problem is one of under-regulation.

"With ADHD you can't regulate your attention. You can't concentrate, for example. The same thing is happening with crying.

One of the NIH scientists say that parents of babies who do uncontrollable crying should tell their pediatricians.

Such persistent, uncontrollable crying "seems to be a very good indicator of potential risk," Dr. Malla Rao of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, told Reuters Health.

As such, Rao said, parents should not simply "dismiss" their child's crying as being due to gastrointestinal problems such as heartburn or colic, but should notify their child's pediatrician.

But it is unlikely the pediatricians will be able to deliver any sort of treatment that will prevent the eventual cognitive deficits. However, researchers probably ought to deliver a wide range of tests to a group of persistently crying babies to see if any toxin or pathogen might be causing neurological damage. If that was the case then an effective treatment could probably be devised. But if the cause of the neurological deficits is genetic or some event that happened at an earlier point in development then all the pediatrician is going to be able to say to parents is to plan on eventually giving you kid Ritalin when ADHD becomes a problem.

In the longer run this sort of discovery points to why biotech therapies for altering brain development will become acceptable. Imagine politicians trying to explain to young mothers that gene therapy or cell therapy for their continuously crying babies would constitute too much of an unnatural intervention. Mom is going to be thinking the crying means her baby is in pain and the fact that it will grow up dumb and hyperactive. She's going to demand that her Congressman votes to allow treatments that will make her kid happier, smarter, and calmer.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 November 05 02:31 PM  Brain Development

Jody said at November 5, 2004 3:13 PM:

Plus happy babies make for better political photo ops.

Brock said at November 5, 2004 7:04 PM:

I read recently that teaching a child sign language raises their IQ (Did I read that here?). I read some time ago that teaching them sign language reduced crying. Anyway, there's a couple reasons this might be true (e.g., smart parents take the time to teach sign language), but perhaps it's because it helps the babies communicate their distress and understand the world at a younger age. Children's minds are so plastic that perhaps something as simple as sign-language can produce measurable benefits.

Not that Leon Kass needs to think there are "non sinful" ways of combating cry babies.

A Shy Person said at November 6, 2004 3:18 AM:

Well, this vindicates me for every time I thought: "Why can't that STUPID BABY (in the cinema, on the bus, in the crowded place) just SHUT UP?"

The baby won't shut up because it's stupid.

thad said at November 7, 2004 4:59 AM:

Would it be possible to get the e-mail address for this website? Can't get it to click on. Thanks.

lindenen said at November 7, 2004 9:54 PM:

Or maybe engaging a baby in prolonged activity that requires a certain amount of concentration (such as teaching sign language) is the crucial difference.

I'd be interested to see if there are differences in parenting style between the parents of different groups.

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