Scientific literature tends to refute the concerns of generations of parents who worry they may be harming their infants by giving them pacifiers (also called dummies, binkies or soothers). Recent consensus has agreed though generally bad for growing straight teeth, their soothing effects are not psychologically damaging, and could even be beneficial.
However, new research suggests that pacifiers may in fact have a deleterious effect on the development of Emotional Intelligence.
Current findings in the fields of psychology and neuroscience show that facial mimicry - recognising and copying outward displays of emotion - plays a key role in the development of emotional understanding. Parental responses to their infant's emotional cues create, in turn, a feedback loop that forms the basis of the child's emotional development.
If accurate understanding of facial emotion is necessary for healthy emotional development, can a pacifier, which obviously disrupts facial mimicry in the child by covering their mouth, compromise this delicate process?
In research published by the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Paula Niedenthal and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that length of duration of pacifier use in boys was associated with reduced capacity for facial mimicry, which could have negative consequences for their Emotional Intelligence in later years.
In a second strand of their research paper, two questionnaire studies showed that young adult males who had been raised with a pacifier achieved significantly lower scores for perspective taking and Emotional Intelligence than those raised without the aid of pacifiers. Interestingly, these reduced emotion processing skills were not found in young females who had used pacifiers, consistent with past research implying earlier Emotional Intelligence development in girls is more socially supported, and hence less easily disrupted.
The authors concluded their research proposing strategies for further studies that could explore and confirm their remarkable findings.