Posts Tagged ‘ bonding ’

Infants Can Sense Pleasant Touch

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Newborns and infants are sensitive to what German researchers term “pleasant touch,” and they display specific physiological and behavioral response to this style of touching.  The findings are yet more confirmation of what parents have known for years, that physical contact is an important part of forging the parent-child bond.  More from the journal Psychological Science:

Previous studies with adults have shown that when the skin is stroked, a specific type of touch receptor is activated in response to a particular stroking velocity, leading to the sensation of “pleasant” touch. Cognitive neuroscientist Merle Fairhurst of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues hypothesized that this type of response might emerge as early as infancy.

For the study, Fairhurst and colleagues had infants sit in their parents’ laps while the experimenter stroked the back of the infant’s arm with a paintbrush. The experimenter varied the rate of the brushstrokes among three defined velocities (0.3, 3, or 30 cm per second). The experimenters gauged the infants’ responses through physiological and behavioral measures.

The results showed that the infants’ heart rate slowed in response to the brushstrokes but only when the strokes were of medium velocity; in other words, the touch of the medium-velocity brush helped to decrease their physiological arousal.

The infants also showed more engagement with the paintbrush during the medium-velocity brushstrokes, as measured by how long and how often they looked at the brush while they were being stroked.

Interestingly, infants’ slower heart rate during medium-velocity brushstrokes was uniquely correlated with the primary caregivers’ own self-reported sensitivity to touch. That is, the more sensitive the caregiver was to touch, the more the infant’s heart rate slowed in response to medium-velocity touch.

The researchers note that this link between caregiver and infant could be supported by both “nurture” and “nature” explanations:

“One possibility is that infants’ sensitivity to pleasant touch stems from direct or vicarious experience of differing levels of social touch as a function of their caregiver’s sensitivity to social touch,” explains Fairhurst. “Another possibility is that social touch is genetically heritable and therefore correlated between caregivers and infants.”

According to the researchers, the findings “support the notion that pleasant touch plays a vital role in human social interactions by demonstrating that the sensitivity to pleasant touch emerges early in human development.”

Image: Mother hugging baby, via Shutterstock

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Newborns’ Scent Fosters Bonding in Moms’ Brains

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

As anyone who has ever inhaled the fuzzy crown of an infant’s head can attest, there’s something magical about that “new baby” smell.  Now, scientists have published a study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology reporting that the aroma is actually a powerful trigger that forms a bond between mother and baby at the brain chemistry level.  NBC News has more:

The scent of a newborn baby really does tap right into the pleasure centers of a woman’s brain, whether the smell comes from her own baby or someone else’s, scientists have discovered. The new findings have been described in a study just published in Frontiers in Psychology.

“These are the areas of the brain that are activated if you are very hungry and you finally get something to eat or if you are a drug addict and you finally get the drug you were craving,” says study co-author Johannes Frasnelli, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in the department of psychology at the University of Montreal.

“Apparently nature has provided us with a tool that helps with the bonding between a mother and her newborn child. It’s very strong.”

To look at how a newborn’s smell affects the brain, an international team of scientists rounded up 30 women, 15 of whom had given birth three to six weeks earlier. The other 15 had never had a baby.

While the women were in a brain scanner, the scientists presented them with either the scent of a newborn baby or just fresh air. The researchers captured ‘essence of newborn’ by taking t-shirts that babies had worn for two days and then freezing them in plastic bags until the scent was needed for the experiment.

While all the women reported that the newborn scent was pleasant, there was a difference on the brain scans between the new moms and the women who had never had a baby: as soon as the newborn scent was detected, the pleasure centers of the all the women sparked, but in the new moms they lit much brighter.

We’ve most likely evolved to respond that way because the birth of a baby shakes up the world of any new parent, Frasnelli says. The helpless baby needs some way to make grownups care.

“A mother with her first child goes from living life in a couple to all of a sudden having to care for a little human being who cries whenever it wants and whom you have to clean up after. It’s a big, big disturbance. It could be seen as something unpleasant, and yet most parents get pleasure from it.”

The researchers haven’t looked at the impact of newborn scent on dads, but Frasnelli suspects fathers’ brains will also react.

Image: Mother and newborn, via Shutterstock

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