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Cambridge Babylab


Dr Ellie Smith from the BabyPaL team spoke at the April Meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society today about her PhD work, entitled: "To what extent does Schizotypic Maternal Personality influence Sensory and Perceptual Development in Infancy?" This work was carried out at the Lancaster Babylab.

Here she was interested in how maternal personality can influence the development of specific abilities in their 6-month-old infants.

Ellie has made her slides and a recording of her talk available online.


Objectives: From early life our parents’ personalities, and the environment we grow up in, have a direct impact on development. Developmental models propose that exposure to parent’s personality, combined with increased genetic risk, contribute to later psychiatric end-states. The present research therefore asks the question, for mothers who exhibit schizotypic traits – personality traits resembling the symptoms of psychosis in an attenuated, subclinical form, would they and their offspring display atypical neural responses similar to those with schizophrenia?

Methods: Six-month-old infants (n=101) and their biological mothers (n=57) participated, exploring endophenotypes of the schizophrenia-spectrum associated with sensory gating and perceptual development. Event-related component and time-frequency data (derived from 128-channel EEG) were collected from both cohorts.

Results: Data confirmed that greater neural deficit was shown among mothers who experienced schizotypic traits in both sensory (p=.01) and perceptual (p=.01) paradigms. This highlights the continuity of deficit across the schizophrenia-spectrum into the sub-clinical realm. The infant cohort, however, displayed no group-level effects: having a schizotypic mother did not influence their high-level sensory/perceptual development. Nevertheless, analyses using dimensional measures of schizotypy revealed individual differences in cognitive abilities that may become discernible later on.

Conclusions: Current infant literature investigating the influence of schizotypyic personality is sparse; preventing our understanding of whether schizotypy could be considered a precursor to mental illness. The relationships shown in the maternal data demonstrate undeniably that there are parallels running between the clinical and sub-clinical schizophrenia-spectrum. Individual differences are not clearly observed in the 6-month-old infants but may be manifested later in development.


To take part in Ellie's current BabyPaL Project, check out some more details here.