Mother-Infant Bond Rewarded by Tiny Smiles, says Research

Mothers are always said to be the best guides of their child’s emotion. Even when a baby is just too small to talk, a mother recognizes the smiles and frowns instinctively and easily associates them with the baby’s mood that instant. Researchers have now tried to exactly understand what goes on in the mother’s mind when she sees her baby’s expression and the way these feelings ultimately help in strengthening the mother-child relation.

Neuroscientist Lane Strathearn and his team at Baylor College of Medicine studied 28 first time mothers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to know what exactly triggers inside the brain of a mother when she sees her baby’s facial expression.

The moms were shown different photographs of their babies with varied expressions from happy, smiling, and sad to neutral and also of another unknown baby with similar expressions.

The scientists found out that when the mothers saw their child’s pictures, the happy face of the infant activated those areas of the brain that were associated with reward processing. Thus mothers felt rewarded seeing their baby smile and it was a pleasant experience. When the baby’s face was neutral the reward processing area was less activated and it was the least with sad faced babies.

Strathearn explained that a baby’s positive expression stimulated dopamine release in the mother which led to her maternal care.

While the research is an important finding in understanding the way a mother seems to know everything about a child’s need, it concentrated only on the smiling expression of the babies.

Mothers respond to a baby’s anxiety, sadness or cries as easily as to their smiles. Therefore, to get a more overall perspective of motherly instincts and also help women who are less empathetic towards their child, more needs to be done in this area. – Atula, Staff Writer

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About the author


Atula is a writer, traveler and a nature-lover. She is also mom to a boy who seems to have inherited all her creative genes. When Atula is not busy making up stories with her son, she writes for numerous magazines, websites and blogs. She is also working on her site on endangered species called

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