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Cannibalism. An uncommon practice that makes some cringe at the thought. Most people wouldn’t dream of feasting on their peers, yet some people go even further than that — to the point of feeling like they need to eat their own babies.
Science has often indicated that many of the bonds between a mother and her baby are related to scents produced by hormones, but this takes things to a whole new level. Previous research has shown that upon labor, both the mother and baby begin producing large quantities of a hormone called oxytocin, which leads to the pair imprinting on each other. This instills to a sense of familiarity, so much that some pairs can even recognize each other based solely off of scent.
This hormone, oxytocin, basically makes people love babies. Scientists suggest it may be because babies are defenseless – cuteness is their one chance of protection. It influences mothers to want to keep their babies safe and well fed. According to Weber State University assistant microbiology professor Matthew Nicholaou, “Babies turn us into oxytocin-loving addicts.”
But what happens when the scent of love goes too far? Researchers who published in Frontiers in Psychology looked into it. They tested 30 women — 15 whom had given birth 3-6 weeks prior to the study, and another 15 who had not had kids.
The clothes of 2-day-old babies were frozen and stored until testing. Without knowing what they were sniffing, the women smelled the clothes of multiple babies, then rated the scent on multiple scales, such as its pleasantness and familiarity. During this process, the brains of these women were being monitored to see which regions were being triggered in response.
The discovery was that the smell of newborn babies, in women, triggered a circuit in the brain that is associated with reward or satisfaction. Johannes Frasnelli, a psychologist involved in the study stated, “These are the areas of the brain that are activated if you are very hungry and you finally get something to eat.”
The responses in the brain to the scent of babies were heightened in that of the mothers tested. Frasnelli suggested this may be due to experience as a mother, or that going through childbirth could alter this region of the brain to become more sensitive concerning this reward circuit.
No men were studied in this research, and the sample size was a little on the small side, but it provides good insight into the phrase “Awwww, you’re so cute I could just gobble you right up!” Although documented cases of people trying to eat babies are on the low side, this research helpfully defines the bond between a mother and her babe and exactly how far that bond can go.
Weber State University Davis Campus student Jonathan Carlisle, who is working on his Associate’s Degree, denied having heard about this topic before.
“I knew about the phrase, but I had no idea people could be serious about it! The science behind it makes sense, but I can’t comprehend the logic behind it.”
Whether this new surprises you or not, further research is expected to follow up by looking at the brain responses in men and whether these same circuits are activated.