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A Moment of Science

A Baby’s Smile

Have you watched a baby smile and simply fallen in love? It turns out there's some cool science behind why a baby's smile is so heart-warming!

Smiling Baby

Photo: maxintosh (flickr)

Everyone loves cute smiling little ones, don't they!?

Have you watched a baby smile and simply fallen in love? It turns out there’s some cool science behind why a baby’s smile is so heart-warming! The answer is that it’s not so much the heart as it is the brain. Scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas have found that when a mother sees her baby smile, it lights up reward centers in the mom’s brain.

The researchers put twenty-eight moms in functional MRI scanners and studied how their brains responded when the moms viewed pictures of their infants and other babies smiling, looking sad, and with neutral expressions. And when the moms saw their own babies smiling, important reward regions of their brains lit up. Actually, it’s the same part of the brain that’s been associated with drug addiction.

It’s not quite like being on drugs, but you could call it a natural high. When her baby smiles, the mom’s brain appears to release dopamine–a chemical involved with feelings of happiness and joy, and the same one that’s triggered by some narcotics.

But it only happens with smiles. When the moms saw pictures of their babies looking sad or neutral, their brains didn’t react as strongly. It seems there’s something particularly powerful about a baby’s smile.

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