Women’s, Men’s brains respond differently to hungry infant’s cries


Marc H. Bornstein, Ph.D., head of the Child and Family Research Section at NICHD says, participants were lying at rest in an fMRI monitoring their brain activity and were played an infant hunger cry.

In women, the hunger cry deactivated the default mode network. That is, women shifted their attention in order to pay attention to the cry, and interestingly, men didn’t. So then we found a gender difference between men and women, and interestingly in women, adult women, whether they were parents or non-parents, so that females shift this focus of attention and males don’t.

Dr. Bornstein says this research not only helps understand the specific wiring of the brain, but helps understand how the brain has developed.

We’re not interested here in this research in differentiating males and females or casting males and dads in a negative light. Certainly, dads respond to their infant’s cries, but it’s also the case that in the evolutionary history of mankind, it’s infants who engender through this limited but important and undeniable means of agency, namely their hunger cry, the need for this kind of response, and as we’re mammals – that’s the definition of us – it’s females who need to respond, and of course, the infant hunger cry causes a whole cascade of specific and interesting responses, in mothers – hormonal responses, the milk let-down response – so that there has developed this kind of symbiotic relationship between infants and mothers as opposed to fathers.


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