I am a fangirl of the website Live Science, but I’ve recently questioned how easily I drink up the studies purporting to prove colds cause fat kids, or, and more dangerously, mothers should blame themselves for their kids’ depression. I love studies and I love statistics, but I’m suspicious of what I love (Dear Husband, no need to fret, I’m only referring to this website).
This morning I was greeted by the headline “Good Mothering Soothes Babies Born to Be Fussy.” Yuck. I hate titles like that, with the converse implication that bad mothering, whatever that is in this study, causes the opposite. What about bad fathering or good fathering? According to the study, “Dad’s responsiveness showed a similar effect, but the results were not statistically significant.” You’ve got to be kidding me. How did they prove this you may ask. I quote below:
“The researchers collected data on 281 families, each consisting of a mother and father and an adopted infant, plus the child’s birth mother. They asked the adoptive parents about the baby’s fussiness, which gave them insight into the child’s emotional distress. The adoptive parents also filled out psychological questionnaires designed to measure depression symptoms.
The researchers also gathered data on whether the birth mothers had depression. Finally, a trained observer watched the parents interact with their adopted child at 9 months of age to determine how responsive the parents were to the child’s needs.
Nine months later, when the babies were 18 months old, the researchers again evaluated children’s level of fussiness.”
Based on this very limited observational and questionnaire heavy method of analysis, the researchers concluded the following:
“In babies whose birth moms had depression — babies who, because of their biological family history, were at higher risk for the disorder themselves — the environment mattered, too. When adoptive moms were unresponsive to at-risk babies (failing to give the child positive feedback or comfort them when needed, for example), the babies were likely to be fussy nine months later.
But when adoptive moms were responsive, those babies showed no more fussiness than if they’d never had a genetic risk at all.”
There you have it. The nature versus nurture conundrum has been solved. Close up your books. Go home. Debate is over.
After participating in a giant research study put on by UCSD about maternal mental health, I now have a new understanding of how flawed these studies are by necessity. A woman interviews me over the phone and asks multiple choice questions about my mental health, scores the questionnaire, and then tells me if I am depressed enough to continue in the study. The biggest problem is having a person ask the questions. I try to be honest whenever they call, but who wants to tell a stranger how often she cries? It sounds so pathetic when stated aloud. The first questionnaire was not via phone, but that was also flawed because, as an overthinker, I didn’t feel any of my four choices really reflected my mental state. I honestly think this is why they pushed me into the next part of the study. My severe morning sickness made me unhappy, but no where could I write the cause of my unhappiness. The study currently includes thousands of women, not the measly hundreds from the article, and I’m still convinced the results will not be that useful.
My point, and I do have one, is that psychological questionnaires and limited observations do not real evidence make. Maybe this is the best we have in terms of studying depression. Fine. So be it. However, pretending like the conclusions are facts is annoying at best, dangerous at worst. Maybe attentive mothering can decrease a genetic predisposition to depression. That isn’t an outlandish hypothesis, but it is still only a hypothesis, regardless of what this study says. Oh, and whoever wrote the title of the article, shame on you for perpetuating the binary between good and bad mothering. My rant is over. Good timing because I hear Amelia stirring. I better run to her for fear of bringing out her latent depression.