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Study: Well-hugged babies make less-stressed adults

Father and son September 11, 1997
Web posted at: 10:29 p.m. EDT (0229 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- People who have problems handling stress as adults may not have been hugged enough as babies, according to the results of a new study published in the journal Science.

Researchers have long suspected that biological responses to stress may be shaped early in life. Now, in an experiment with rats, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta and McGill University in Montreal say they have confirmed a connection between touch and stress.

CNN's Al Hinman reports
icon 1 min., 50 sec. VXtreme streaming video

"High-quality maternal-infant interaction -- lots of time spent grooming, licking, nursing in the rats -- correlated with animals that were quite capable of dealing with stress as adults," said Paul Plotsky of Emory University.

"Those offspring ... of mothers who spent less time in maternal behavior toward them were hyper-reactive to stress."

Researchers also compared the brain chemistry of the two groups of rats, looking specifically for levels of hormones released during times of stress. They found that as adults, rats who had been cuddled had significantly reduced levels of those hormones.

The researchers believe the results show that development of babies is controlled by more than genetics -- that it's both nature and nurture.

And even before they have the chance to test their theory in humans, the researchers said there's enough evidence of a possible link to support plenty of baby hugs.

Plotsky said it is important to give "attention to the infants so that the infant has some sense that whatever it does has an effect on its environment."

"That, I think, holds for rats as well as humans."

Medical correspondent Al Hinman and Reuters contributed to this report.

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