Mothers are said to hold a special
lifelong place in their children’s hearts, but it also appears they have a
unique significance in their brains, too.
Scientists have discovered that
when adults look at their mothers’ faces, it triggers a stronger response in
the brain than when they look at pictures of strangers – or even of their
Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging
machines, the researchers measured the brain activity of volunteers as they
were shown photographs of their parents, strangers and celebrities.
When images of the participants’
mothers were shown to them, the scientists found that it ‘lit up’ key areas,
associated with recognition and emotion.
The findings suggest that mothers
produce a complex and lasting emotional and cognitive response in their
children’s brain, as a result of the bonding experience that takes place
between them and their children, as babies.
Scientists believe the findings
shed new light on the extent to which humans experience ‘imprinting’ – a
phenomenon observed in many birds and animals in which youngsters form very
strong attachments to the first creature they see after being born.
As a result, the youngsters follow
their mother around and can rapidly learn from her characteristics and
behaviour, which are said to be ‘imprinted’ on them.
Human babies do not undergo such
rapid imprinting, but many scientists believe the bond between mother and child
can have crucial implications in later life and even into adulthood.
The new study, which is reported in
the scientific journal Brain and Cognition, involved 20 volunteers with an
average age of 35.
Dr. Marie Arsalidou’ from the
University of Toronto, Canada, who carried out the research along with
academics from the University of Winchester, in the UK, said: “Differential
activity to mothers’ faces may be attributable to greater exposure to one’s
mothers face during critical childhood years.”
She added: “The fact that this
activation is even seen in adults who have lived away from their parents for
many years does suggest that it is certainly a very long-term effect.”
Fathers faces produced a strong
response in an area deep inside the brain known to contribute to feelings of
affection but failed to produce anywhere near as much brain activity when
compared to the volunteers’ mothers.
Professor Ann Buchanan, director of
the Oxford Centre for Research into Parenting and Children at Oxford
University, said: “This brain research is giving a physical understand for
things we know emotionally.
“It seems like the
brain is born like a disk that has been formatted but nothing has been put into