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Babies: why we could just eat them up

Babies – they're delicious.

A new study published this month in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that the smell of newborn babies fired up the reward centre of the brain in women who have given birth as well as those who haven't, the same way particularly tasty foods do.

Maybe this is why people who are around babies always say, "I could just eat you up!"

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An international team of researchers in Germany imaged the brains of two groups of women – 15 who had recently given birth for the first time, and 15 who have not given birth – after both groups had been exposed to the smell from the pyjamas of two-day-old babies.

For both groups, the smell was found to activate the brain's reward circuits.

"This circuit makes us desire certain foods and causes addiction to tobacco and other drugs," Johannes Frasneli, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Montreal's department of psychology who helped design the study and conduct the data analysis, said in a release. "Not all odours trigger this reaction. Only those associated with reward, such as food or satisfying a desire, causes this activation."

What about men, you might ask. It's unknown what reaction the smell of newborns have on them because they weren't included in the study.

The other question you might ask – although, come on, don't be silly – is this: Does this study suggest that evolution has primed us to actually want to eat babies?

That impulse is fleeting. Instead, researchers said, the data "suggests that certain body odours might act as a catalyst for bonding mechanisms."

As The Christian Science Monitor points out, smells have previously been shown to play a role in bonding between mothers and their children, including one study that found that 90 per cent of women could identify their babies by smell alone after spending no more than just one hour with their newborns.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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