Washington: Adults who care for babies show up as distinct patterns in their brains while viewing the image of a baby’s face, according to new research. The findings open the possibility that studying this activity will yield insights into caregiving behaviour 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 co-author Marc H. Bornstein, the journal NeuroImage reports.
He heads child research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, according to its statement.
While researchers recorded participants’ brain activity, they 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.
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.
Other co-authors are Andrea Caria, University of Tuebingen, Germany; Paola Venuti, 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, Germany.
Researchers found that infant images evoked more activity than any of the other images in brain areas bearing on speech and movement, heightened attention to the movement and expressions on an infant’s face and emotion and reward.