Can a mother's stress affect her offspring?

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Could there be a relationship between stress and behavior of offspring? A study conducted by professors from the University of Haifa and Georgetown University addressed this question by testing rats and the effects among generations by an early exposure to stress. After the study was completed, it was concluded that the offspring's behavior was indeed impacted by the stress. The results were a decrease of social interaction, but an improvement in the rats' ability to learn to avoid distress. However, when therapeutic sessions occurred on the mothers, some of the effects in the offspring were weakened and less severe.
Our Psychology textbook, written by Scott Lilienfield, Steven Lynn, Laura Namy, and Nancy Woolf, puts a heavy amount of emphasis on the ruling out rival hypothesis, which states that whenever we evaluate a psychological claim, we should ask ourselves whether we've excluded all plausible explanations for it. In the case of the stressed rats, what else could be causing the effects on the offspring? The environment in which these rats are living, their relationship with their parents, and their health situation are all possible explanations for the effects. Although the scientific evidence from the article supports the claim, we have to remember that there may be other causes that aren't being mentioned. Also, this claim is subject to the Bandwagon Fallacy, which states that some people assume a claim is correct just because many other people do. However, I believe that the rule out hypotheses theory is more plausible in this scenario. The rats could be experiencing these disorders for an insurmountable amount of other reasons, not just because their mothers experienced stress.

Sources:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110816111924.htm

1 Comment

Decent post. Some of the alternative explanations you mentioned probably were controlled for or examined in the study. The only way to know for sure is to read the original published report.

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