Nobel-Prize-winning zoologist Konrad Lorenz proposed that it is the specific structure of the infant face, including a relatively large head and forehead, large and low lying eyes and bulging cheek region, that serves to elicit these parental responses. But the biological basis for this has remained elusive.
Now, a possible brain basis for this parental instinct has been reported in research published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE on February 27. This research was led by Morten Kringelbach and Alan Stein from the University of Oxford and was funded by the Wellcome Trust and TrygFonden Charitable Foundation. The authors showed that a region of the human brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex is highly specifically active within a seventh of a second in response to (unfamiliar) infant faces but not to adult faces.
This finding has potentially important clinical application in relation to postnatal depression, which is common, occurring in approximately 13% of mothers after birth and often within six weeks. The present findings could eventually provide opportunities for early identification of families at risk.
The research team used a neuroimaging method called magnetoencephalography (MEG) at Aston University, UK. This is an advanced neuroscientific tool which offers both excellent temporal (in milliseconds) and spatial (in millimetres) resolution of whole brain activity. Because the researchers were primarily interested in the highly automatized processing of faces, they used an implicit task that required participants to monitor the colour of a small red cross and to press a button as soon as the colour changed. This was interspersed by adult and infant faces that were shown for 300 ms, but which were not important to solve the task.
The authors found a key difference in the early brain activity of normal adults when they viewed infant faces compared to adult faces. In addition to the well documented brain activity in the visual areas of the brain in response to faces, early activity was found in the medial orbitofrontal cortex to infant faces but not adult faces. This wave of activity starts around a seventh of a second after presentation of an infant face. These responses are almost certainly too fast to be consciously controlled and are therefore perhaps instinctive.
The medial orbitofrontal cortex is located in the front of the brain, just over the eyeballs. It is a key region of the emotional brain and appears to be related to the ongoing monitoring of salient reward-related stimuli in the environment. In the context of the experiment, the medial orbitofrontal cortex may provide the necessary emotional tagging of infant faces that predisposes us to treat infant faces as special and plays a key role in establishing a parental bond.
Also, there is now evidence from deep brain stimulation linking depression to the nearby subgenual cingulate cortex which is strongly connected with the medial orbitofrontal cortex. This lends support to the possibility that changes to activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex secondary to depression may adversely affect parental responsivity.
Postnatal depression is common and there are some experimental evidence suggesting that mothers with postnatal depression have difficulties in responding to infant cues. Further research could identify whether the present finding of early and specific medial orbitofrontal responses to infant faces (own and others) are affected and even suppressed by depression, thereby helping to explain this lack of maternal responsiveness. The present paradigm could eventually provide opportunities for early identification of families at risk.
Rebecca Walton | alfa
Zebrafish's near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View
22.06.2018 | University of Sussex
New cellular pathway helps explain how inflammation leads to artery disease
22.06.2018 | Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
In a recent publication in the renowned journal Optica, scientists of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena showed that they can accurately control the optical properties of liquid-core fiber lasers and therefore their spectral band width by temperature and pressure tuning.
Already last year, the researchers provided experimental proof of a new dynamic of hybrid solitons– temporally and spectrally stationary light waves resulting...
Scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Basel identified a master regulator for bone regeneration. Prasad Shastri, Professor of...
Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.
Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...
The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.
Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.
An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.
Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...
13.06.2018 | Event News
08.06.2018 | Event News
05.06.2018 | Event News
22.06.2018 | Materials Sciences
22.06.2018 | Earth Sciences
22.06.2018 | Life Sciences