Research - parents - Parents wired to baby's cry
The brains of parents - especially mothers -
appear to be wired up to respond to the cries of babies.
A team from the University of Basel used sophisticated scans
to measure brain responses to recordings of babies' cries
One measure showed the cries provoked a stronger reaction
in parents than in childless people, and another showed a
stronger response in women than men.
The research is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
The scientists found that a baby's sobs triggered increased
activity in a particular area of the brains of parents of
This area, called the amygdala, plays a central role in processing
However, measures of activity in the amygdalas of childless
adults, both men and women, showed they were more likely to
be stimulated when a baby laughed, rather than cried.
A parent needs to foster their offspring, so that they spread
their genes into the world.
Professor Erich Seifritz
Lead researcher Professor Erich Seifritz, of the University's
Department of Psychiatry, told BBC News Online that the findings
made biological sense.
He said: "For a parent a baby's cries are much more important
than for a non-parent.
"A parent needs to foster their offspring, so that they
spread their genes into the world.
"So it is important that they have mechanisms in their
brain to make sure they are sensitive to needs of their baby.
"In evolutionary terms, this means that a child is more
likely to survive and pass on his or her genes."
However, the research came up with different findings when
it focused on a second area of the brain called the prefrontal
cortex. This is a complex structure, which is not fully understood,
but is also thought to play a role in processing emotion.
These readings showed that all women, regardless of whether
they had children of their own, registered altered activity
in this area in response to a baby's cries.
However, men, again regardless of their parental status, showed
no sign of raised activity in this region.
The researchers believe that a baby's cries may trigger a
noise filter in the prefrontal cortex which enables a woman
to focus solely on a child's cries, to exclusion of other
In turn, this may stimulate the transmission of electrical
impulses to other brain areas, triggering strong emotions,
and caring behaviour such as feeding or cuddling.
Professor Seifritz said the findings suggested that women's
prefrontal responses might be hard-wired, whereas for men
and women their amygdala response was more modulated by experience.
However, he said the more work was required to explain the
possible interaction between the amygdala and the prefrontal
The researchers hope their work will provide new clues about
how people relate to each other socially, and about what goes
wrong when people develop emotional disorders, such as Borderline
Personality or Mood Disorders.