Headline: Maternal Instinct Is Wired Into The Brain

Sometimes it’s great to see other people make all those arguments that come to mind when brain imaging research gets turned into instincts and hard wiring.  Tara Parker-Pope runs a blog On Health through The New York Times, and while I have liked some of her previous posts (that’s where I found the autism YouTube video), today she really misses the mark.  And the people commenting really let her know it!

 So here’s the quick summary.  TPP reports on imaging research with 13 mothers and their 16-month-old infants (well, toddlers, wouldn’t they be by then?).  They were then shown videos of their own babies and other babies while images were taken of their brains.  “When a woman saw images of her own child smiling or upset, her brain patterns were markedly different than when she watched the other children. There was a particularly pronounced change in brain activity when a mother was shown images of her child in distress.”

TPP then provides a winner quote from the editor of Biological Psychiatry, which published the piece last month: “This type of knowledge provides the beginnings of a scientific understanding of human maternal behavior”

First comment, from PlainJane: “This does seem to be proving the bleeding obvious… [But] what happens then to mothers who are shown NOT to have these “natural” responses in their brains to their infants? Will they be locked up as freaks or have their kids taken from them? I can just imagine.  Or will neglectful mothers be able to say “oh its biological, I can’t help not bonding with my child”?  I applaud further research into all aspects of the human brain but you and other non-scientist commentators are vital in directing HOW this is viewed. It would be nice for your blog to put it in some more context.’

Katie: “By 16 months mothers and children must be bonded, and of course the mothers would react to seeing their child in distress – for more than a year they have been reacting to their child to meet its needs… And what about moms who adopt? or use surragates?”

Mark: “I would never have suspected that mothers have a special attachment to their own children. What will they find out next?”

Marcus: “The phrasing is misleading and suggests a common but fundamental misrepresentation of what this type of fMRI research shows — or maybe a misunderstanding that confuses a general audience. “Wired,” “hard-wired,” and “instinct” suggests genetically programmed in, like a reflex. A brain pattern that shows up on fMRI studies, however, can reflect brain “programming” that has been acquired through experience, to use the computer metaphor.”

LJB: “I can’t help but feel like this research is going to be used as the crux of some defense lawyer’s argument as to why his client abandoned her child. While I’m sympathetic to post-partum issues (it took me longer than expected to bond with my son after birth) I was still fiercely protective of him and responded to him, although I was terrified of not doing it right when I went to him. I think the mother-infant bond is more complex and this is just one of the many layers of the proverbial onion.”

JiminBoulder: “Will you please stop turning us into machines?”

Jeanne, mother of five: “The absolute hilarity of the line “This type of knowledge provides the beginnings of a scientific understanding of human maternal behavior,” made my day!”

One thought on “Headline: Maternal Instinct Is Wired Into The Brain

  1. I don’t understand how this is scientifically recognized testing/analysis. Could it not be the mind’s reactions to the distress of someone they care for? I would be distressed to see my pets in pain, what of a child. I could also careless as to the welfare of someone close to me – as, I might not truly love/care for them.

    This appears to be ‘loose’ science – as you cannot test or understand without evaluating ALL applicable components.

    KAS

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