I recently read about research done at the Baylor College of Medicine about the effects of a baby’s smile on a mother’s brain. This is my report.
Called “What’s in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues“, the study was conducted by three Ph.D. psychologists and a medical doctor. They sought to prove that a smiling baby will cause a measurable response in the brain of the mother.
Twenty-eight first-time mothers were shown pictures of their own babies and the babies of others displaying various degrees of happiness. Then the mothers’ brains were studied via MRI.
When first-time mothers see their own infant’s face, an extensive brain network seems to be activated . . . Dopaminergic reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, infant faces.
I mean, look at this:
Now unless you are married to me then you are not the mother of these babies. Just one of the babies is smiling — slightly (while the other looks on with an expression of mild concern) — and yet I’ll bet you can still feel your dopaminergic reward-related brain regions being stimulated.
And yet my dopaminergic reward-related brain regions are so stimulated it’s borderline indecent.
Which brings me to my real problem with this study. Not only was it unnecessary, it also worries me a little that so much attention is being drawn to this issue. I mean, if the folks at the DEA (or Nancy Reagan) were to take notice of just how much babies stimulate our dopaminergic reward-related brain regions, they would almost certainly decide that baby faces should be declared controlled substances. And if baby faces are outlawed, then only outlaws will have baby faces.
Think of how the world would change. People hiding in alleys with baby strollers. “Psst . . . I’ve got twins in here. Happy ones. You wanna look?”.
Sarah, Grandma, Harrison, Grace, and I would certainly be cruising the streets looking to score some smiles. We’re all into baby smiles in a big way. We act like idiots for Kennedy and Shepard until our dopaminergic brain regions are stimulated, which lasts until we walk away for a few minutes and start craving our next fix.
The twins would be big earners on the grin market. Shepard is full of big goofy smiles, and he usually adds a “oooooh” or “uga” to the mix. He can be completely ticked off and screaming about something, but when we make eye contact with him he’ll pause, smile, and say “agaa” before going back to complaining. Kennedy gives shy little smiles complete with twinkling blue eyes. She tries to talk, but she hasn’t quite figured out which nerves to use, so her mouth will start to move but then she ends up flopping her arms or sticking out her tongue instead. It’s a bit like trying to beep the horn of your car but turning on the wipers instead, and it must be frustrating for her, but it’s cute to watch. You can see the gears turning in her head. “Maybe it’s this one,” she seems to be saying, “no, that’s my right leg”. Every once in the while she gets a sound out and it’s exciting for everyone involved.
I know the smiles are just a gateway expression. As Harrison got a little older I became addicted to giggles. Tickling would do it at first (and still does, actually) but after a while I had to resort to whole physical comedy routines to get my giggle fix. I know as he gets older it will get harder and harder. Grace is a tougher audience yet. Hopefully at least one of the twins will turn out to be a fan of my Three Stooges-style comedy (I’m betting on Shepard) to get me through the next decade or so. After that, there’s only one solution.
No wonder parents push so hard for grandkids.