Does Mom's cell phone use stress out baby? New UNT study explores impact.

Monday, October 20, 2014 - 18:54

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- University of North Texas student Cory Kildare stood at a city park one day, watching parents transfixed on cell phone screens while kids on the swing set yelled, "Push me, Mommy!"

At restaurants and stores, she often saw the same – parents with their eyes fixed on tiny screens instead of tiny tots.

The experience inspired the UNT doctoral student to focus her doctoral dissertation on the effects of cell phone use when parents are interacting with their kids. The proposal is titled "Infants' Perceptions of Mothers' Phone Use."

Kildare is recruiting 50 mothers of three-month-old to six-month-old infants to take part in the study this fall. Each participant can choose to be entered to win one of four $25 gift cards for participation in the study, which is expected to take about an hour and a half.

For her study, Kildare is modifying use of the still-face experiment, a 1970s experiment in which parents interacted with their babies and then stared with a still and expressionless face at the babies, causing the babies to move from delight to anxiety.

During the study, Kildare will watch mothers and babies playing together for about two minutes. In the next two minutes, mothers will focus on their phones rather than their infants. And in the final two minutes, the moms will play with their babies again.

Kildare will record the sessions to study facial expressions of the infants, looking for signs of stress. Recognizing that babies may not look upset even if they're feeling stressed, she also will measure cortisol levels of the babies through their saliva.

She will recruit and meet with mothers in the study from October to March.

Kildare said she embraces technology and doesn't expect parents to live screen-free, but she hopes the study raises awareness about modeling behavior for children.

"There can be too much of a good thing," Kildare said of technological innovations. "Just be aware. As adults, we know how it feels when we're talking to someone and they check the phone in the middle of the conversation. In three- to six-month-old infants, they're still beginning early interactions with parents and setting up expectations. It's affecting interactions in the rest of their life."

Find out more about the study by emailing

Kildare expects to graduate from UNT in August 2015 with a doctoral degree in educational psychology with a concentration in human development and family studies.

About UNT's College of Education

UNT's College of Education prepares students to contribute to the advancement of education, health and human development. Founded in 1890 as a teacher's training college, UNT now enrolls more than 4,000 students in the College of Education, which consists of four departments -- counseling and higher education; educational psychology; kinesiology, health promotion and recreation; and teacher education and administration. UNT's College of Education certifies about 1,000 teachers a year -- making it one of the largest producers of new teachers in the north Texas region. Students are also prepared for careers as researchers, counselors, leaders, physical activity and health promotion specialists, child development and family studies specialists and more.

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