It turns when your corpulent Aunt Gertrude said, “I’m going to eat your toes,” she was only half-joking. New science out of Dresden, Germany, shows that, when presented with the smell of newborn children, women feel an urge very similar to hunger.
The study, led by Johan Ludstrom and published in Frontiers in Psychology, gathered 30 right-handed, non-smoking women of healthy childbearing age (19-36). The women were segregated into two groups of fifteen: women who had given birth within the last six weeks and those who had never given birth. By rejecting smokers and choosing right-handed women, the scientists tried to ensure uniformity of nasal sensitivity and brain activity. The women were then presented with clothing imbued by the body odor of a two day old newborn. Their brains were scanned as they smelled the clothing.
The scans showed heightened activity in the reward centers of women’s’ brains. The areas of the brain affected by baby smell are often associated with the pleasure gained from food or drug use. Therefore, in smelling infants, women show a desire similar to hunger.
Although both groups of women showed a marked reaction to the infant smell, the group of new mothers showed a stronger reaction. The study hypothesizes that new mothers smelling their baby get same pleasure and reward as they would from eating a satisfying meal. The scientists suggest this “hunger” reaction is part of the process of maternal bonding between mother and child.
So the next time Aunt Gertrude comes after your toes, back away. Unfortunately, the study did not include recent fathers. Therefore no data yet exists to suggest how soon after smelling newborns a man will run to the golf course.