Tag Archives: baby

Goo Goo for (Lady) Gaga

In the chapter we read in class, we saw how Stravinsky’s music had a disrupting effect on the listeners’ ears because it was distinct from the sounds they had heard in the past. There were dopaminergic neurons that fired when met with such sounds. But most importantly, these neurons then lead to plasticity in the auditory cortex. It points to an idea that maybe manipulating the use of music can lead to changes in other areas of the brain, not just the auditory cortex. Music plays a role in our daily lives. Who doesn’t love to listen to music while riding the metro to class every day? Those 20 minutes allow me to jam out to my favorite songs and destress for the day. I don’t know how I’d function without it. There have been studies that have shown that music is a great stress reliever (Linnemann et al., 2018).

This then made me wonder, if music plays such a big role on our lives (I mean the same 10 songs are trending worldwide), then could music go beyond just pleasure and truly have effects on our brain? Is there just a pleasant component to music or can it also be beneficial to us? I decided to look into a 2019 study that studied the effects of music on premature infants.

The salience network model

Pre-term babies have a variety of medical complications that can lead to them being in the NICU for weeks or months. While in the NICU, Lordier et al. set to test whether playing music to preterm infants would enhance their brain development (2019). With the use of fMRI testing, they test the brain connectivity in the subjects while they are in a resting state. They first measured the resting-state functional connectivity, which is a measure of the statistical dependencies between different brain regions. The greater the connectivity, the more brain maturity. They measured this prior to music exposure in normal and pre-term babies and found that pre-term babies’ connectivity was significantly less than the full-term babies. Within the connectivity calculation, there is a salience network which helps a person detect a certain stimuli and respond to it accordingly. The salience network connects 3 main areas, for simplification purposes, we can call them the auditory and sensorimotor networks, the thalamus, and the visual cortex. The salience network is made up of the insula, often involved in sensory processing and cognitive abilities, and the anterior cingulate cortex, often involved in emotion and information processing.

The researchers recruited 24 full-term infants and 39 preterm newborns. Within the preterm group, 20 received the musical enhancement while the other 19 did not. They had 3 distinct songs: a song for the baby to wake up to, a song for an awake baby, and a song that helps the baby fall asleep.  The music was played to them for 5 days a week until they were released from the hospital.

Image describing the process of music listening

The results show that there is an increased connectivity in the regions of the sensorimotor network and the thalamus, but not the in the orbitofrontal cortex/visual cortex. This data supports the idea that music does in fact enhance a premature baby’s brain network.  Although this is a good place to start, I believe that further studies should be done to determine what type of music works best and to maybe follow the test subjects through the years to see the effects. Also, it was unclear why one area of the brain, the orbitofrontal cortex did not show an increased connection since when comparing to adults, there is a significant amount of greater activity in this area (Brown et al., 2004).

The results of the study showing the strengthening of the pathways

So, now it makes so much sense why the people who first heard Stravinsky were in a riot, music exposure plays a big role in our lives from such an early age. This study showed us how music is not only something you hear for entertainment purposes; it also has the potential to actually enhance the brain connections of these infants. Prior studies have shown that adults are also able to enhance their brain networks by learning how to play music or by listening to pleasant music (Tanaka and Kirino, 2017). So now that we have seen the extent of music on brain region connectivity, you might want to start putting in your headphones. I know I won’t be feeling guilty for drowning out the world in those 20 minutes of riding in the stuffy metro.


Brown S, Martinez MJ, Parsons LM (2004) Passive music listening spontaneously engages limbic and paralimbic systems. Neuroreport 15, 2033–2037.

Dolezel, Jodi. “Premature Birth Facts and Statistics.” Verywell Family, Verywell Family, 24 June 2019, www.verywellfamily.com/premature-birth-facts-and-statistics-2748469.

Linnemann A, Ditzen B, Strahler J, Doerr JM, Nater UM (2015). Music listening as a means of stress reduction in daily life. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 60:82–90.

Lordier L, Meskaldji D, Grouiller F, Pittet MP, Vollenweider A, Vasung L, Borradori-Tolsa C, Lazeyras F, Grandjean D, Van De Ville D, and Hüppi PS (2019). Music in premature infants enhances high-level cognitive brain networks. PNAS. 116 (24) 12103-12108.

Tanaka S, Kirino E, Reorganization of the thalamocortical network in musicians. Brain Res. 1664, 48–54 (2017)

Image 1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salience_network

Image 2: https://leapsmag.com/this-special-music-helped-preemie-babies-brains-develop/

Image 3: https://www-pnas-org.proxy.library.emory.edu/content/116/24/12103


The Baby Schema Scheme

Coming off the Metro on my first day in Paris, one of the most immediate sights was that of a woman and her two children sitting on the ground and holding a sign that read, “famille Syrienne”. Throughout the rest of the week, I saw countless homeless people and families, many with children under the age of three. Not only did the homeless often have children, but a large amount also had one or two dogs. While walking to class one day, I even saw a man with a puppy that couldn’t be over two months old. This sparked a question in me- does the appearance of a baby or puppy increase the chance of charitable giving from others?

Figure 1: Homeless Syrian woman with her baby

I believe most people would think the answer to that question is obvious; if given the option to donate to homeless person with a baby or a homeless person without, the logical decision, in terms of effectiveness of the donation, would lean towards the family. However, if we put aside logic-based decision making and focus on spur-of-the-moment choices, would having a baby or puppy make a difference?

Before I did research on experiments from the past, I conducted my own small observational study. At the Bastille Métro Station (Figure 2), I observed the number of people who gave money to both a woman with a baby (Figure 1) and a woman without for five minutes each. Out of 63 people who passed adjacent to the woman with a baby, 4 gave her change, for a percentage of 6.35%. Out of 56 people who passed adjacent to the woman without a baby, only 1 person gave change, for a percentage of 1.79%. Although this observation cannot be statistically analyzed to imply much, as it was a very short study with very few variables controlled, it seems as though the presence of the baby had helped to increase the chance of a donation.

Figure 2: Location of Bastille Station in Paris

In order to find out more information on the neurobiological processes involved in this difference, I read through a study performed by Glocker et al. (2009) on how the “baby schema” modulates the reward system in nulliparous women (women who have never given birth). The baby schema is the physical features of babies, such as a round face and big eyes, that motivates caretaking behavior and attracts attention. This short article modified different aspects of baby schema and observed the levels of activation in associated brain regions in 16 women in their twenties. Glocker et al. hypothesized that an increase in the baby schema “cuteness rating” would cause an increase in blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI brain activity in the mesocorticolimbic system, which is comprised of the dopaminergic midbrain, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

Figure 3: Examples of high, unmanipulated, and low baby schema faces used in the study by Glocker et al.

Using adjusted images of infant faces, such as in Figure 3, they found a linear increase in activation due to baby schema in the left anterior cingulate cortex, left precuneus, left fusiform gyrus, and right nucleus accumbens (Figure 4). The researchers then went on to discuss their findings in relation to the functional properties of these regions, specifically the nucleus accumbens, precuneus, and fusiform gyrus.

Figure 4: (A) Results of fMRI BOLD testing by Glocker et al. Areas of interest include left anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), left precuneus (PCu), left fusiform gyrus (FG), and right nucleus accumbens (NAcc). (B) Increases in BOLD percent signal change due to increased baby schema.

They described the nucleus accumbens as being linked to reward-based behavior, and that its activation could release approach behavior towards infants. In addition, the nucleus accumbens is a part of the striatum, which has been associated with processes such as mutual cooperation, charitable donation, and social bonding. The activation of this region due to seeing a baby’s face could influence women into donating money. Another brain region of interest was that of the precuneus, which is commonly associated with attention, suggesting that baby schema brings and holds attention to an infant’s face. Finally, the fusiform gyrus plays a large role in facial perception, and may encode baby schema features to send along to the nucleus accumbens to appoint motivational value.

Overall, the study does a good job in identifying the regions of brain that are sensitive to baby schema. However, it was limited to women in their twenties who have never given birth. This category of people is only a small percentage of those who encounter homelessness, so it doesn’t fully answer my question. Despite its limited conclusions, Glocker et al. discusses how other studies have shown that, while women most likely are more responsive to the baby schema than men, they both process it similarly.

Although this article was informative on the effects of the human baby schema, I was interested in the subject of puppies as well. So, I read an article titled “Sweet Puppies and Cute Babies: Perceptual Adaptation to Babyfacedness Transfers across Species” by Golle et al. The researchers used a perceptual adaptation paradigm to test whether the evaluation of cuteness is species-specific or exists across multiple species. Their first experiment involved subjects rating 78 babies’ faces on a scale of 1-6. The 5 least cute and cutest babies were used as “adaptor” stimuli. All remaining faces were individually paired (one cute and one less cute) and morphed together. The subjects were then tested in three respective parts: rating the morphed faces in cuteness, looking at the adaptor faces carefully, and then rating the morphed faces again. In general, the subjects rated the babies as cuter during the second round of rating, after the adaptation phase. From this, it can be reasoned that the brain grows accustomed to a range of cuteness. During a second experiment, the researchers tested if a similar adaptation can occur when shown faces of dogs.

Figure 5: A homeless man with two dogs in Paris

Using the same procedure, but swapping the human infant adaptor stimuli with cute and less cute puppy faces, Golle et al. found that the adaptation of puppy faces similarly influenced the perception of baby faces to have an increased cuteness value during the second round of rating. From this data, the researchers concluded that facial cuteness adaptation transfers across species and induces the same “cuteness decoding” process (a.k.a. the effects of the baby schema found in the first study). They gather that human beings have a general instinct to take care of newborns of the same or different species- a desire that stems from the cuteness of the baby.

Figure 6: My dog, Buddy. What cuteness rating would you give him?

From these two studies, it can be concluded that both babies and puppies’ cuteness causes an activation in certain areas of the brain associated with caretaking, attention, and charitable giving. This in turn can lead to an increased influx of donations towards homeless with young children or dogs compared to those without. So, next time you give money to a homeless family, what might seem to be a simple altruistic decision might actually be a series of complicated facial analysis!


Glocker ML, Langleben DD, Ruparel K, Loughead JW, Valdez JN, Griffin MD, Sachser N, Gur RC (2009) Baby schema modulates the brain reward system in nulliparous women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 106(22):9115-9119.

Golle J, Lisibach S, Mast FW, Lobmaier JS (2013) Sweet puppies and cute babies: perceptual adaptation to babyfacedness transfers across spepcies. PLoS ONE 8(3):e58248

Figures 1 and 6 were taken by me

Figures 2 and 5 were obtained from a search in Creative Commons:

Figure2: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/74/Paris_department_land_cover_location_map.svg/2000px-Paris_department_land_cover_location_map.svg.png

Figure5: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a6/Homeless_puppies%2C_Paris%2C_October_2008.jpg

Figures 3 and 4 were taken from the study by Glocker et al.