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Look Mom, less risk.

Look Mom, less risk

Some babies are "at-risk.' They have poor reflexes, orient slowly to visual, auditory and tactile stimuli and withdraw when separated from their mothers for a short time. These individuals, who have problems adapting to new situations throughout their lives, also possess elevated heart rates and a surfeit of cortisol, a stress-related hormone.

The babies in question are rhesus monkeys, and it appears that a highly nurturing, attentive mother can bring them out of their shells and encourage normal exploration and play behavior.' "It seems that the behavior of at-risk animals can be modified over the first year of life by a highly nurturant mother,' said psychologist Stephen J. Suomi at a National Institute of Mental Health conference last week. The findings are preliminary, he cautions, but an extensive study is in the works.

Suomi, who directs the rhesus research at a federal facility in Poolesville, Md. (SN: 6/16/84, p. 375), reports that six monkey infants have been followed through their first year. Three were at high risk for later adaptation problems and three were tagged as low-risk babies. Each was placed with either a nurturing mother or a less attentive, more punitive mother. At 6 months of age, a high-risk monkey being raised by a nurturing mother displayed virtually normal exploratory and play behavior, points out Suomi. When the 6-month-old animal was separated from the monther for several four-day periods, it quickly withdrew and showed marked increases in cortisol. The infant returned to normal two months after being reunited with the mother.

When introduced into a peer group at 10 months of age, the same at-risk monkey was withdrawn and kept to itself. But again, after about two months it interacted normally, says Suomi.

Data concerning the other five infants are still being analyzed, he adds. It may be difficult, however, to study high-risk infants raised by a more punitive mother. "Within the first week of life, these mothers seem to know which infants are at-risk,' explains Suomi. "They won't adopt [at-risk babies] or have much to do with them.'
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Title Annotation:at-risk monkey infants thrive with nurturing mothers
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 20, 1985
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