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Babies Really Can Light Up Your Life
Date:2/29/2008

Study shows an infant's face sparks a response in the adult brain

FRIDAY, Feb. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Ever wonder why adults tend to go ga-ga when they see a baby?

Scientists report that sophisticated imaging showed that seeing a baby's face lit up a specific region of the adult brain associated with reward circuitry. This "Christmas tree" effect didn't occur when adults looked at another adult face, suggesting there's a neural basis for protective, nurturing feelings triggered by babies.

And the findings could also shed some light on postnatal depression, which affects some 13 percent of new mothers, the study authors said.

Other experts, however, were divided on the clinical implications of the findings.

"It's interesting that clearly a brain area may be related to an instinctive behavior such as looking at a baby's face," said Paul Sanberg, director of the University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair. "I think [the study authors] are right that this could [be related to] an underlying brain mechanism of postnatal depression, where this part of the brain may be altered and could effect the ability of mothers to respond to infants' cues."

But Dr. Jonathan Friedman, assistant professor of surgery and neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, was a bit more cautious when discussing the findings' significance.

"It's an interesting finding without question -- it's never been recorded before," said Friedman, who is also director of the Texas Brain and Spine Institute in College Station. "It's not known if it [the new study] will have clinical significance."

In the 19th century, famed naturalist Charles Darwin noticed that something about infants caused adults to respond instinctively and care for them. In his paradigm, this increased the chances that one's own genes would endure.

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