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Unloved babies become anti-social adults (25th November 2005)
CHILDREN deprived of a loving, trusting relationship in their early years are more likely to develop anti-social behaviour later, psychologists said yesterday.
A paper presented at the British Psychological Society conference in Perth said policy-makers should be concentrating on stopping children developing personality disorders, rather than interventions later on.
Studies in the United States found that an unhealthy mother-infant relationship, in which the mother finds it difficult to cuddle her child or communicate, led to aggressive behaviour in the early years and to anti-social behaviour later.
Dr Bjarne Holmes, a psychologist at Heriot Watt University, took part in a 21-year study of 70 mothers and their children carried out by Harvard Medical School.
Half the mothers were identified by clinicians and psychologists as likely to have a problematic relationship with their children and the rest were from the same community but without any obvious problems.
Children of mothers who were hostile and punitive showed problematic behaviour at the age of seven.
More recent studies found that, at 20, some 80 per cent of men and more than half of women in the group at risk of having unhealthy mother- infant relationships displayed anti-social behaviour or borderline personality disorders, compared to 41 per cent of males and 9 per cent of females in the other group.
Dr Holmes said: "One of the most fundamental and consistent findings is that a severely unhealthy mother-child relationship, particularly in the first 12 to 18 months of life, is a substantial risk factor for mental health problems in childhood and even in adolescence."
Dr Holmes called for more work to identify infants at risk and develop interventions before it is too late.