Babies born by caesarean section are more likely to have slower spatial attention, a skill that helps infants prioritize and focus on a particular area or object of interest, according to a new study published in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics.
“The results suggests that birth experience influences the initial state of brain functioning and should, consequently, be considered in our understanding of brain development,” says lead researcher Scott Adler of York University in Canada.
Very early birth factors such as birth weight and a mother’s age are known to impact a child’s development, but little is known about how the actual birth event influences a baby’s brain development and cognition.
The study is the first to compare the spatial attention of babies delivered vaginally to those born through caesarean section. Such research is important in light of the steadily increasing number of babies delivered through c-sections.
The findings show that being delivered by c-section can potentially influence any cognitive process that relies on spatial attention.
The study involved two experiments with different groups of three-month-old infants. Their eye movement was monitored, as an indication of what caught their attention. Therefore, disruptions or changes in the mechanisms involved in attention would manifest in subsequent eye movement.
The first experiment was a spatial cueing task that tested the stimulus-driven spatial attention of 24 babies. A cue was presented in the babies’ peripheral (side) vision, indicating the subsequent location of a target stimulus. This activated infants’ saccadic (or quick, jerky) eye movement, so that their eyes turned faster towards the place where a target was subsequently presented.
The reflexive attention and saccadic eye movement of those babies born by caesarean were found to be slower compared to those of vaginally delivered infants.
The researchers believe this occurs because babies’ brain development is impacted by their method of birth, and it may change their initial ability to direct their spatial attention. It is still unclear whether this effect lasts throughout a lifetime.
The second experiment was a visual expectation task, involving 12 babies. Stimuli predictably appeared on the left and right side of a monitor in an alternate fashion.
The activity increased saccadic eye movement as babies anticipated where the forthcoming stimulus would appear. Such anticipatory eye movements are linked to cognitive-driven spatial attention. The findings showed no difference in the cognitively driven, voluntary attention of babies with different birth experiences.