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Urban Babies May Be Less Temperamental Than Rural Ones

A new study reveals that babies from rural families tend to exhibit negative emotions, such as anger and frustration, more frequently than their urban counterparts. In contrast, infants born in big cities tend to be less fussy and not as bothered by limits set by their caregivers.

The study, published in the Journal of Community Psychology, investigated differences in infant temperament, parent-child interactions and parenting stress between families of similar socioeconomic and racial composition in the Inland Northwest and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Overall, the Washington State University (WSU) researchers found that urban moms tended to be better at intuiting when their babies wanted or needed something, including when they were ready to be done with play. Rural moms reported more frequent displays of negative emotions from their babies, particularly when they were distressed due to limitations.

In many ways, the new results reflect the findings of previous studies investigating differences in child-rearing practices between urban and rural families. However, unlike past studies, which have looked at the effects of living in an urban vs. rural environment on older children, the new analysis specifically focuses on infants.

“I was shocked, quite frankly, at how little there was in the literature on the effects of raising an infant in a rural vs. urban environment,” said WSU psychologist Dr. Maria Gartstein.

“The fact that rural mothers in our study reported more frequent expressions of anger and frustration from their infants may be consequential as higher levels of frustration in infancy can increase risk for later attentional, emotional, social and behavioral problems.”

For the study, Gartstein, WSU graduate student Alyssa Neumann, and colleagues at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and the Seattle Clinic analyzed and compared data from two previously conducted studies of mother-child interactions and infant temperament.

The first study consisted of 68 participants and their infants in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the second included 120 rural mothers and their infants from Whitman and Latah counties in the Inland Northwest of the United States.

Mothers completed a questionnaire to report the frequency of 191 different behaviors their child displayed at six and 12 months after birth. The research team then rated the babies on 14 different dimensions that ranged from cuddliness to vocal reactivity.

Parent-child interactions, where mothers were asked to engage their infants in play in a typical fashion, were also video-recorded in the laboratory for analysis.

Gartstein said one of the more surprising findings was that contrary to predictions, the study found no statistically significant differences in parenting stress between urban and rural caregivers.

“This may be a result of different, but functionally equivalent, risk factors,” Gartstein said. “Whereas living in a big city generally brings more exposure or proximity to violent crime, isolation can also cause a great deal of stress for rural parents. This research opens up a lot of very interesting future avenues of investigation.”

Gartstein’s infant temperament research will be featured in an episode of the Netflix documentary “Babies” this summer.

In future studies, the researchers will try to pinpoint exactly what it is about living in a rural vs. urban context that causes the differences in temperament between the two groups.

“For example, access to mental and behavioral health services and child rearing resources tend to be limited in more rurally situated communities,” said Gartstein. “Figuring out what role, if any, these and other locational variables play in an infant’s social emotional development will be the next step in our research.”

Source: Washington State University

Urban Babies May Be Less Temperamental Than Rural Ones

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Urban Babies May Be Less Temperamental Than Rural Ones. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 19 Mar 2020 (Originally: 19 Mar 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 19 Mar 2020
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