by Julie Snyder
Babies are human magnets! You see a baby and before you have time to think about it, you raise your eyebrows, smile and initiate a one-sided conversation in fluent "baby talk." Even burly men stop to peek into a baby carrier and coo at a newborn.
"The sight of that little, round face and big eyes stops me in my tracks. I just want to give those chubby little cheeks a squeeze, snatch the sweet baby right up and love on 'em...not that it would be socially acceptable at times," says Theresa, a Pregnancy.org member.
Have you every looked at a sweet baby's face and felt that pull to make their world better?
You can't help yourself. It's human nature to nurture a baby -- even if you're not related to or know the child, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and in Germany, Italy, and Japan.
They noted that certain areas of the brain become active when adults look at a picture of an infant's face, even when the child isn't theirs. These distinct patterns of activity might indicate a predisposition in our species to care for infants.
To collect the data, the researchers showed seven men and nine women a series of images while recording their brain activity with a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner. In the scanner, participants viewed images of puppy and kitten faces, full-grown dogs and cats, human infants and adults.
"These adults have no children of their own. Yet images of a baby's face triggered what we think might be a deeply embedded response to reach out and care for that child," said senior author Marc H. Bornstein, Ph.D., head of the Child and Family Research Section of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute that collaborated on the study.
When the researchers compared the areas and strength of brain activity in response to each kind of image, they found that infant images evoked more activity in areas of the brain areas associated with three main functions:
Participants also rated how they felt when viewing adult and infant faces. They reported feeling more willing to approach, smile at, and communicate with a baby than an adult. They also recorded feeling happier when viewing images of infants.
The researchers say that these findings suggest that all humans are hard-wired to interact with babies and enjoy it. Such brain activity in non-parents could indicate that our brains have a mechanism to ensure that infants survive and receive the care they need to grow and develop.
Previous studies have only inferred this behavior and only between parents and their babies.
However, signs of readiness to care for a child that appear in the brains of some or even most adults, do not necessarily mean the same patterns will appear in the brains of all adults, Dr. Bornstein said, "It's equally important to investigate what's happening in the brains of those who have neglected or abused children." He continued to add, "Additional studies could help us confirm and understand what appears to be a parenting instinct in adults, both when the instinct functions and when it fails to function."