Research — 30 July 2015

According to researchers at the University of Warwick, adults who weighed less than 3.3lbs at birth are more likely to be tense, anxious, easily worried, neurotic, and shy in social situations.

It is already known that babies born before 32 weeks, or those with a birthweight of less than 1,500g (3.3lb), are more likely to be on the autistic spectrum. “Very premature and very low birth weight adults who have socially withdrawn personality might experience difficulty dealing with social relationships with their peers, friends and partners”, Wolke said in a press release. That’s just a fraction of the different experiences that make up personality, but it’s possible that early birth can set children up for certain traits for a number of different reasons.

Babies born very premature or severely underweight are at a higher risk of introverted behaviour as adults, a new study suggests. They also looked at a further 197 young people born at term in the same maternity units.

Evidence showed that many adults born very prematurely or with a low birthweight are less likely to go on to higher education or get well paid jobs.

“Personality characteristics are very important because they help people to develop into adult roles and form and maintain social relationships”, Prof Wolke said.

Compared to those in the control group, participants who were born very prematurely and/or underweight had much higher levels of autistic behaviors, introversion, neuroticism (tenseness and anxiety) and agreeableness, and lower levels of being open to new experiences and conscientiousness.

Being born very prematurely or with a very low birth weight may also lead to parents being overprotective toward their children, potentially influencing the development of particular personality traits.

The research Personality of adults who have been born very preterm have been published inside Archives of Disease throughout Childhood: Fetal & Neonatal Version published by means of BMJ.

“Currently, we do not know what the mechanics are by which preterm or low birth weight increases the risk of a socially withdrawn personality”. At its extremes, brain development can be sufficiently abnormal as to lead to personality disorders.

“If identified early, parents could be provided with techniques to foster their child’s social skills to help compensate for socially withdrawn personality characteristics”, he adds.

This article first appeared on ‘Dispatch Times’ on 29 July 2015.

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