Published on Tue Nov 13 2018

Baby schema modulates the brain reward system in nulliparous women.

Melanie L Glocker, Daniel D Langleben, Kosha Ruparel, James W Loughead, Jeffrey N Valdez, Mark D Griffin, Norbert Sachser, Ruben C Gur

A set of infantile physical features, such as round face and big eyes, that is perceived as cute and motivates caretaking behavior in the human. The neural basis of this fundamental altruistic instinct is not well understood.

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Abstract

Ethologist Konrad Lorenz defined the baby schema ("Kindchenschema") as a set of infantile physical features, such as round face and big eyes, that is perceived as cute and motivates caretaking behavior in the human, with the evolutionary function of enhancing offspring survival. The neural basis of this fundamental altruistic instinct is not well understood. Prior studies reported a pattern of brain response to pictures of children, but did not dissociate the brain response to baby schema from the response to children. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and controlled manipulation of the baby schema in infant faces, we found that baby schema activates the nucleus accumbens, a key structure of the mesocorticolimbic system mediating reward processing and appetitive motivation, in nulliparous women. Our findings suggest that engagement of the mesocorticolimbic system is the neurophysiologic mechanism by which baby schema promotes human caregiving, regardless of kinship.