What woman has not wanted to gobble up a baby placed in her arms, even if the baby is not hers? This reaction, which everyone has noticed or felt, could have biological underpinnings related to maternal functions. For the first time, an international team of researchers has found evidence of this phenomenon in the neural networks associated with reward. "The olfactory -- thus non-verbal and non-visual -- chemical signals for communication between mother and child are intense," explains Johannes Frasnelli, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Montreal's Department of Psychology. "What we have shown for the first time is that the odour of newborns, which is part of these signals, activates the neurological reward circuit in mothers. These circuits may especially be activated when you eat while being very hungry, but also in a craving addict receiving his drug. It is in fact the sating of desire."
For their experiment, the researchers presented two groups of 15 women with the odours of others' newborns while the women were subjected to brain imaging tests. The first group was composed of women who had given birth 3-6 weeks prior to the experiment, and the other group consisted of women who had never given birth. All the women were non-smokers. The odours of the newborns were collected from their pyjamas two days after birth.
Although the women in both groups perceived the odour of newborns with the same intensity, brain imaging showed greater activation in the dopaminergic system of the caudate nucleus of mothers compared to the women who had never given birth. Located in the centre of the brain, the caudate nucleus is a double structure straddling the thalamus in both hemispheres. "This structure plays a role in reward learning," explains Frasnelli. "And dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter in the neural reward circuit."
This system reinforces the motivation to act in a certain wa
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University of Montreal