Oh, Baby: Relationship Woes May Start Early
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Roses, chocolates and romantic Valentine's cards might bring you love, but they can't buy you this…
(Soundbite of song "Security")
Mr. OTIS REDDING (Singer): (Singing) I want security, yeah. Without it I had a great loss.
MONTAGNE: Your sense of security or insecurity may affect your love life. And a study finds your degree of insecurity is influenced from an extremely early age. Steve Inskeep has been looking into it.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're going to find out about that study from Shankar Vedantam. He writes a column on human behavior for The Washington Post, and he's on the line. Once again, welcome to the program.
Mr. SHANKAR VEDANTAM (Columnist, The Washington Post): Thanks for having me, Steve.
INSKEEP: When this study says that your insecurity is influenced at a very early age, how early are we talking about here?
Mr. VEDANTAM: Well, remarkably, we're talking about one year old.
INSKEEP: How can you know if a 12-month-old is going to be an insecure adult 20-some years later? How can anybody have known that?
Mr. VEDANTAM: I know. It's really a remarkable study, and I found myself doing a double take when I first read it. But the study essentially finds that how secure you are as an infant predicts how happy or unhappy you will be as a young adult in a romantic relationship.
INSKEEP: Did they track a bunch of infants into adulthood?
Mr. VEDANTAM: They did. This was a study that lasted almost a quarter century. They tracked infants who were 12 months old, then checked in on them again when they were in grades one through three, and then again when they were teenagers and finally when they were young adults in romantic relationships.
INSKEEP: How do you tell the difference between an insecure and secure 12-month-old?
Mr. VEDANTAM: They brought in infants, along with their mothers, to our lab. And then they had the mothers leave briefly. Most infants, as you can expect, got upset when their mothers left. But what the psychologists were interested in was what happened when the mothers returned. Many babies turned to their mothers for comfort, and after a few minutes of comforting calmed down and then resumed their explorations of the world. And there were some babies that refused to seek comfort at all.
And what the researchers have said is that babies who are more insecure, who are less confident that their parents can calm them down in a situation, either do not turn to their parents, or when they do, they are not easily comforted.
INSKEEP: But how do they behave differently once they're adults and in relationships?
Mr. VEDANTAM: The psychologists were interested in what mechanisms predict whether people report happiness or unhappiness in romantic relationships. And we find that people who are more able to reach out to others for help turn out to be much more secure and much happier in romantic relationships than people who are aloof or who turn away from others when they are upset.
INSKEEP: Mr. Vedantam, I know you've got a young child, as I do.
Mr. VEDANTAM: Indeed.
INSKEEP: When you read about this study, does it make you wonder about what you're doing as a parent and whether you can do anything better?
Mr. VEDANTAM: Believe me, the moment I read the study, I took my infant into another room and left briefly and then returned to see how my child would react.
INSKEEP: How's she doing?
Mr. VEDANTAM: Well, I have to say she wasn't particularly upset when I left.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. VEDANTAM: She didn't seem particularly impressed when I returned.
INSKEEP: Now you're the one who's insecure.
Mr. VEDANTAM: I have to say that's probably true.
INSKEEP: But is there any advice we can get as parents out of behavior?
Mr. VEDANTAM: I think certainly the advice that we can get as parents is to be available for our children and offer them comfort. You know, these are not particularly surprising insights to offer. But that also gives us hope. So in other words, even if we are not started out on this right foot, there's always time in life to change and to find a way to become more secure in the next developmental stage of your life.
INSKEEP: Shankar Vedantam writes for The Washington Post and is becoming something of a regular guest on this program. Good to talk with you again.
Mr. VEDANTAM: Thanks so much, Steve.
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