Science may have finally figured out why women are often seized by the urge to eat newborn babies.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal has concluded that the smell of infants triggers a physiological response in mothers similar to that experienced by hungry people presented with a delicious meal.
“The olfactory — thus non-verbal and non-visual — chemical signals for communication between mother and child are intense,” Johannes Frasnelli, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychology, said in a statement. “What we have shown for the first time is that the odor of newborns, which is part of these signals, activates the neurological reward circuit in mothers. These circuits may especially be activated when you eat while being very hungry, but also in a craving addict receiving his drug. It is in fact the sating of desire.”
The researchers used brain imaging scans on two groups of 15 women who were exposed to the odors of newborns—one that had given birth 3 to 6 weeks before the experiment, and the other that had never given birth.
While both groups of women experienced the smell of the newborns with the same intensity, the imaging revealed that the mothers had much greater activity in the brain’s dopaminergic system than the women who had never given birth.
The resulting desire to eat one’s young is part of an evolutionary bonding mechanism, the researchers concluded.
“These results show that the odor of newborns undoubtedly plays a role in the development of motivational and emotional responses between mother and child by eliciting maternal care functions such as breastfeeding and protection,” Fransnelli said. “The mother-child bond that is part of the feeling of maternal love is a product of evolution through natural selection in an environment where such a bond is essential for the newborn’s survival.”
As yet, no studies have been undertaken to determine whether the same phenomenon exists for men.