Seeing a Human Infant Face Induces Brain Activation

Species-specific brain responses may underlie responsiveness, caring inclination toward infants

WEDNESDAY, March 21 (HealthDay News) -- Viewing an infant face, even an unfamiliar one, is associated with activation of brain regions associated with communication, attachment, and caregiving, according to a study published in the April issue of NeuroImage.

Andrea Caria, Ph.D., from the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in Germany, and colleagues investigated the brain responses that motivate adults' general tendency to respond to infant faces. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to record non-parent processing of unfamiliar infant faces compared with matched adult faces and infrahuman mammal infant and adult faces.

The investigators found that several brain systems were activated by human infant faces, including the lateral premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, cingulate cortex, anterior insula, and the thalamus. Activation of these systems is indicative of preparation for communicative behavior, attachment, and caregiving. Compared with animal infant faces, these brain regions preferentially responded to human infant faces, implying that the responses were species-specific.

"We identified brain circuits that subserve preparation to respond and reward in the presence of human infants. Visual processing of infant faces predisposes adults to interact with them, an attitude that is readily apparent in close observation of healthy adult-infant interactions," the authors write. "The complex of species-specific brain responses we identified appears to include biological mechanisms that underlie responsiveness and a caring inclination toward young children."

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