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Why babies smell good enough to eat
It's not just you
 
Just for show.
Just for show. (Facebook/Anne Geddes)

It turns out that when a new mom says her baby is so sweet, so deliciously cute, that it is good enough to eat, she is expressing an urge linked to the survival of the species.

The smell of a newborn triggers the same reward circuits in the brain as the ones that come from satisfying a craving for food, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology. It's the same feeling an addict feels from drugs. Sex can also do the trick.

"It is in fact the sating of desire," Dr Johannes Frasnelli of Montreal University, one of the paper's authors, tells Britain's Daily Mail.

The researchers figure this has to be something moms are hardwired to feel to jumpstart maternal instincts. "Thankfully for the continuation of our species, this Medean impulse is fleeting: The researchers hypothesize that the reward circuit's response evolved to encourage mothers to feed and protect their kids, not to really eat them," says Eoin O'Carroll at The Christian Science Monitor.

So, how did the researchers figure this out? They presented the scents of a baby's pajamas to two groups of 15 women. The subjects in one group had given birth within the preceding six weeks; the others had never had babies.

The scientists then scanned the women's brains, and found that the new moms experienced a surge of the pleasure chemical dopamine in the caudate nucleus — the brain's reward center — of the new mothers, even though the babies they were sniffing were not their own. The other women didn't experience the same chemical jolt.

Men weren't included in the study, so it's still an open question whether dads are programmed differently from non-dads.

If there's something that didn't ring true in this paper, says Eve Vawter at Mommyish, it's that the non-mothers — or anybody else, for that matter — would be able to resist that delicious baby aroma.

I don't think only women who have given birth want to eat babies. I think it's a universal thing, especially if the baby is adorable and smells really good and doesn't have a dirty diaper. Especially if the baby is wearing a little hat with ears on it. I demand they re-do this whole study. and try again using actual babies with hats with ears on them and then see who in the group tries to eat the baby's feet or pretends to eat their tummies while the baby giggles. I bet the results are universal. [Mommyish]

 
Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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