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Women's Brains Physcially Change During Pregnancy

May 07, 2014 02:06 PM EDT
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The brains of pregnant women may actually be preparing to make strong emotional bonds with a newborn child by ramping up right-side brain activity, a recent study suggests.

The study, conducted by scientists from Royal Holloway, University of London in the United Kingdom, revealed evidence that the brains of pregnant women exhibit increased activity, particularly in the right hemisphere - the part of the brain associated with emotional skills.

The researchers' findings were presented at the British Psychological Society's annual conference on Wednesday.

The neurophysical activity of a total of 39 pregnant women and new mothers was assessed while these women were exposed to images of adult or baby faces. Each of these images was what researchers call a "chimeric face," where one side of the face is neutral and the other side is emotive - either with a clearly positive of negative expression. This type of image recognition test is commonly used by researchers to show which side of a subject's brain is being used to process either positive or negative emotions.

Interestingly, the researcher quickly found that pregnant women used the right side of their brains far more than new mothers did. The researchers also observed that pregnant women displayed the most right-side brain activity when seeing faces with positive expressions.

According to Dr. Victoria Bourne from the Department of Psychology at Royal Halloway and a co-author of the study, these results give insight into why women are more sensitive to emotions when they are pregnant.

"The results suggest that during pregnancy, there are changes in how the brain processes facial emotions that ensure that mothers are neurologically prepared to bond with their babies at birth," Bourne said in a Royal Halloway press release.

Understanding why and how this change occurs, Borne explained, is a "key step" in understanding mother-baby bonding.

Bourne and her team presented their findings at the British Psychological Society's annual conference on May 7.

It is recommended that unpublished findings be considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The Royal Halloway press release was published on May 7.

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