From the Daily Herald, April 17, 2008

We are drawn to a baby face, whether or not we claim to like children. Our brain can’t help itself. Our neurons reflexively respond to an infant’s big eyes, broad forehead, button nose and tiny chin, University of Oxford researchers recently reported in the online journal PLoS One.

Using a technique called magneto-encephalography that measures brain signals, the Oxford researchers found that a baby’s face can seize our attention in milliseconds, activating an unusual mental organ called the fusiform gyrus that responds to human faces. Moreover, these distinctive infant features, unlike the mature features of an adult, trigger a sense of reward and good feeling in a seventh of a second. Picture Bambi’s saucer-size eyes or those of Mickey Mouse.

The researchers concluded that the parental instinct is present in all of us. “It suggests we are probably all hard-wired to respond and care for babies, to help us perpetuate the species,” said Oxford child psychiatrist Alan Stein, who helped conduct the experiment. “The response to an infant face is too fast to be under conscious control.”

If so, where did brain cells and synapses learn anything about a face? The question goes deeper than surface appearances. Our ability to distinguish faces deftly is central to a debate about the anatomy of knowledge.

“Why do we have special regions of the brain for some higher-level abilities but not for others?” asked neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher, who studies visual perception and cognition at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “Are they innate? Are they learned?”

Entire article here.

Advertisements