Darcia Narvaez of the University of Notre Dame says her three studies show a relationship between child-rearing practices common in foraging hunter-gatherer societies and better mental health, greater empathy, conscience development and higher intelligence in children.
These practices of old -- such as promptly meeting the needs of a fussing baby -- help a child grow up to be better adults, but that is not the case with some "modern" practices, Narvaez says.
"Ill advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms, or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will 'spoil' it," Narvaez says in a statement. "Our research shows that the roots of moral functioning form early in life, in infancy, and depend on the affective quality of family and community support."
Characteristics of child rearing common to distant ancestors include:
-- Lots of positive touch, no spanking, but nearly constant carrying, cuddling and holding.
-- Prompt response to baby's fusses and cries.
-- Breastfeeding, ideally 2-5 years.
-- Multiple adult caregivers, people beyond mom and dad.
-- Free play with multi-age playmates.
-- Natural childbirth, which provides mothers with the hormone boosts that give the energy to care for a newborn.
The findings are scheduled to be presented at an October Notre Dame conference on human nature.