Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brain imaging study finds evidence of basis for caregiving impulse

Date:
March 16, 2012
Source:
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Summary:
Distinct patterns of activity -- which may indicate a predisposition to care for infants -- appear in the brains of adults who view an image of an infant face -- even when the child is not theirs, according to a study by an international team of researchers.

Researchers have found that distinct patterns of activity -- which may indicate a predisposition to care for infants -- appear in the brains of adults who view an image of an infant face -- even when the child is not theirs.
Credit: Jamey Ekins / Fotolia

Distinct patterns of activity -- which may indicate a predisposition to care for infants-- appear in the brains of adults who view an image of an infant face -- even when the child is not theirs, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and in Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Seeing images of infant faces appeared to activate in the adult's brains circuits that reflect preparation for movement and speech as well as feelings of reward.

The findings raise the possibility that studying this activity will yield insights into care giving behavior, but also in cases of child neglect or abuse.

"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.

While the researchers recorded participants' brain activity, the participants did not speak or move. Yet their brain activity was typical of patterns preceding such actions as picking up or talking to an infant, the researchers explained. The activity pattern could represent a biological impulse that governs adults' interactions with small children.

From their study results, the researchers concluded that this pattern is specific to seeing human infants. The pattern did not appear when the participants looked at photos of adults or of animals -- even baby animals.

Along with Dr. Bornstein, the research was carried out by first author Andrea Caria, Ph.D., of the University of Tuebingen, in Germany; Paola Venuti of the Department of Cognitive Science of University of Trento in Italy; Gianluca Esposito of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan; researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics and Eberhard Karls University, in Tuebingen, Germany.

Their findings appear in the journal NeuroImage.

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.

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 than any of the other images in brain areas associated with three main functions:

  • Premotor and preverbal activity -- The researchers documented increased activity in the premotor cortex and the supplemental motor area, which are regions of the brain directly under the crown of the head. These regions orchestrate brain impulses preceding speech and movement but before movement takes place.
  • Facial recognition -- Activity in the fusiform gyrus -- on each side of the brain, about where the ears are -- is associated with processing of information about faces. Activity the researchers detected in the fusiform gyrus may indicate heightened attention to the movement and expressions on an infant's face, the researchers said.
  • Emotion and reward -- Activity deep in the brain areas known as the insula and the cingulate cortex indicated emotional arousal, empathy, attachment and feelings linked to motivation and reward, the researchers said. Other studies have documented a similar pattern of activity in the brains of parents responding to their own infants.

Participants also rated how they felt when viewing adult and infant faces. They reported feeling more willing to approach, smile at, and communicate with an infant than an adult. They also recorded feeling happier when viewing images of infants.

Taken together, the researchers contend, the findings suggest a readiness to interact with infants that previously has been only inferred, and only from parents. Such brain activity in nonparents could indicate that the biological makeup of humans includes a mechanism to ensure that infants survive and receive the care they need to grow and develop.

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 said. "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."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Andrea Caria, Simona de Falco, Paola Venuti, Sangkyun Lee, Gianluca Esposito, Paola Rigo, Niels Birbaumer, Marc H. Bornstein. Species-specific response to human infant faces in the premotor cortex. NeuroImage, 2012; 60 (2): 884 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.12.068

Cite This Page:

NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "Brain imaging study finds evidence of basis for caregiving impulse." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 March 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120316094532.htm>.
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2012, March 16). Brain imaging study finds evidence of basis for caregiving impulse. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120316094532.htm
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "Brain imaging study finds evidence of basis for caregiving impulse." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120316094532.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The brains of artists aren't really left-brain or right-brain, but rather have extra neural matter in visual and motor control areas. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins