The new insight into the brain has come from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where researchers worked with colleagues from the Leiden University in the Netherlands.
The changes are with the physical size and structure of the brain. This is based on a small study involving 25 pregnant women and 19 of men; the men were partners of some of the women. A second control group consisted of 20 women and 17 of their male partners who had never had children and were not planning to. Prior to giving birth the women underwent high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging scans. Scans were also run on the other study participants.
After the women had given birth, the scans were repeated. According to CNN
, the women who had given birth showed a loss in volume of grey matter in areas of the brain associated with social cognition. The reason for this, the researchers speculate, is a form of neural resetting, altering neural networks into more efficient synapses. No changes were seen with the women who had not given birth or any of the men.
The area of the brain affected is the one involved with perceiving how other people feel. It is thought the brain undergoes a form of adaptation to the challenge of motherhood. The changes persisted for at least two years afterwards. Interestingly the greater the loss of the gray matter then the greater a woman appeared to bond with her child.
The trigger may be linked to biochemistry. In a research note
, the lead scientist Dr. Elseline Hoekzema said: “It is not surprising that the unparalleled changes in a woman’s hormone levels during pregnancy would lead to changes in brain structure.”
By using the collected data the researchers were able to construct a computer program that can predict whether or not a woman has given birth by scanning her brain.
The findings are published in
the journal Nature Neuroscience
. The research paper is titled “Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure.”
In related news
, a study has looked at study of how the brain reacts to religious stimuli. Brain scans of Mormons indicated that the brain circuits that are activated during experiences like gambling, love, sex and drugs are the same ones that are activated while praying and viewing religious material.