But the biological or neural basis for this phenomenon has yet to be explained -- until, perhaps, now.
Using an imaging technique called magnetoencephalography, scientists led by researchers at the University of Oxford in England scanned the faces of 12 adults as they looked at images of 13 infant and 13 adult faces. The study participants had never seen the images before. The faces were matched for emotional content, attractiveness and other features.
Brain activity started in the medial orbitofrontal cortex region of the brain within one-seventh of a second after seeing infant faces, but not adult faces. The responses were considered too rapid to be consciously controlled.
This region of the brain has been implicated in reward behavior; it also appears to be involved in visual object recognition. And depression has been linked to another region of the brain -- the subgenual cingulate cortex -- that is connected to the medial orbitofrontal cortex.
The next step, Sanberg said, would be to see how the adult brain reacts to one's own child. "It could be worth taking this further to see if this is involved in imprinting," he said. "Are there different connections when it's your own child? It's of interest from an evolutionary point of view."
The study results were published Feb. 27 in the journal PLoS ONE.
Harvard University has more on magnetoencephalography.
SOURCES: Paul Sanberg, Ph.D., D.Sc., distinguished professor of neurosurgery and director, University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair, Tampa; Jonathan Friedman, M.D., associate dean, Bryan-College Station campus,
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