Adults´ brains rapidly respond to the cries of a baby, says study

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 - 15:30

The brain is geared to respond to a baby’s cry faster than some other sounds in the environment

Adults’ brains respond to baby cries much faster than adult cries, a leading researcher has stated. Maynooth University alumnus Christine Parsons, Associate Professor at Aarhus University, Denmark, says her research shows that that listening to baby cries compared with adult cries was associated with activity in a reward region of the brain, the orbitofrontal cortex, occurring at around 130 milliseconds.

In further work, Professor Parsons and her fellow researchers found that the periaqueductal gray — an area deep in the midbrain, linked to survival or 'do-or-die' behaviours — shows specific activity within 49 milliseconds of a recorded infant sound being played. This activity may support us in responding rapidly to a baby when we need to.

The investigators also detected rapid firing in brain regions that check a stimulus for its emotional salience and in areas that control movement.

Professor Parsons, along with research colleagues from Aarhus University in Denmark, Dr Katherine Young from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Morten L. Kringelbach of Oxford University and others, has tracked reactions to the sound of a baby cry in both brain scans of healthy volunteers and direct electrode measurements in adult patients who were undergoing neurosurgery.

“Our work has used a range of brain imaging methods to understand human behaviour, motivation and emotion processes. These methods can give us fundamental information about how the brain guides adaptive behaviour,” Professor Parsons stated.

“This research is fundamental to our understanding of the parental brain – it shows how the brain is geared to respond to a baby’s cry. A baby’s cry has built in features that make it difficult to ignore. We think the way that adults respond to these important signals from babies can have long-term effects on development.”

On Wednesday, 15 November, Professor Christine Parsons of Aarhus University, Denmark will deliver the annual Alumni Lecture entitled “Using ‘Hot’ Technologies to Understand Human Behaviour: From Deep Brain Electrodes to Arcade Games and Smart-phones” as part of Maynooth University’s Science Week. The lecture will take place in the Iontas Building at 7:00pm.

More information on the event is available here.