An Italian research team under D. Lenzi published in 2009 (Cerebral Cortex, 19, 1124-1133) a study where mothers were shown pictures of children that showed different kinds of feelings.


(The picture is shown by permission of Cerebral Cortex)

A so called f-MRI registration showed that the “mirror neurons” in the maternal brains were most activated when they were looking at child images filled with emotional expressions. This was especially the case if the images showed their own children. (The mirror neurons have to do with our ability to empathize. They are activated when we see other people do things or express emotions). If the child had an ambiguous facial expression (No. 3 from the left) other centres in the brain were activated instead, namely, those that are related to rational thinking. In these cases, the mothers’ brains had to work harder and less spontaneously to elaborate their impression of the picture.

The researchers also found a connection between the mothers “reflective functioning”, that is, the ability to understand another human beings’ state of mind, and the activation of their mirror neurons. One could say that these researchers found that it seemed smarter for a baby’s mother to possess an ”EQ” than a ”IQ”.

How does the baby’s brain work when he or she is interacting with the mother? You will know more about this on the next page.