Baby schema modulates the brain reward system in nulliparous women

Melanie L. Glocker, Daniel D. Langleben, Kosha Ruparel, James W. Loughead, Jeffrey N. Valdez, Mark D. Griffin, Norbert Sachser, Ruben C. Gur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

162 Scopus citations


Ethologist Konrad Lorenz defined the baby schema (" Kindchenschema") as a set of infantile physical features, such as round face and big eyes, that is perceived as cute and motivates caretaking behavior in the human, with the evolutionary function of enhancing offspring survival. The neural basis of this fundamental altruistic instinct is not well understood. Prior studies reported a pattern of brain response to pictures of children, but did not dissociate the brain response to baby schema from the response to children. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and controlled manipulation of the baby schema in infant faces, we found that baby schema activates the nucleus accumbens, a key structure of the mesocorticolimbic system mediating reward processing and appetitive motivation, in nulliparous women. Our findings suggest that engagement of the mesocorticolimbic system is the neurophysiologic mechanism by which baby schema promotes human caregiving, regardless of kinship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9115-9119
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - Jun 2 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


  • Accumbens
  • Caregiving
  • Functional MRI
  • Infant
  • Social cognition


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