Maternal love on the brain

John Bowlby proposed, in his theory of attachment, that humans are ‘hardwired’ to respond to social releasers from infants – they can’t help but respond to an infant’s smiles or cries of distress and this responsiveness is in our genes. New research has provided evidence of the brain circuitry involved in this response. Dr. Madoka Noriuchi and his colleagues in Tokyo (2008, abstract) used a brain scanning technique (fMRI) to look at how mothers’ brains respond to infants who are happy or upset/crying. Certain areas were active when the mothers observed their own infant’s smiles and cries as opposed to other infants (in particular it was areas in the cerebral cortex and limbic system). Smiling and crying are attachment behaviours – they elicit caregiving from the infant’s mother figure and ensure safety for the infant. This research shows us the neurophysiological basis for the attachment response (maternal love) and supports the view that such a response is innate – because there is a specialised area in the brain that responds.