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Newborn baby smell lights up same part of female brain as chocolate, study says

Women get similar pleasure from the smell of newborn babies and from chocolate — and chocolate, it seems, may have the potential to alter how people behave or interact.
Lois M. Collins, Deseret News Modified: May 13, 2014 at 11:00 am •  Published: May 14, 2014
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Women get a similar pleasure from the smell of newborn babies as they do from chocolate.

In a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, 30 "healthy, right-handed, nonsmoking women" were subjected to an ear-nose-throat examination and a 12-item sniff test to be sure their sense of smell was working. Half of the women had given birth within the past three to six weeks; half were not moms.

Meanwhile, the researchers collected body odors contained in cotton undershirts from 18 newborn infants. The babies slept in the undershirt their first two nights, then the shirts were collected and sealed in zip-lock bags and placed in deep freeze to preserve the odors. They were thawed an hour before testing.

The research showed that the reward center that lights up for chocolate and other pleasures also lights up for the smell of a newborn baby. It didn't make a difference whether the woman had recently given birth or not.

Wrote Lori Aratani of The Washington Post: "Researchers weren’t sure what the scent was. 'We think it consists of roughly 250 chemicals,' said Johan Lundstrom, an associate professor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. 'We think it gives moms the urge to take care of their infants.' Researchers also suggested that the babies’ body odor might also convey cues that can motivate a woman to care for a child even if the baby isn’t her own. The study did not include men, so no word on how the smell affects them."

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