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Science explains why women want to 'eat' babies

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 Have you ever felt an urge to "eat" a baby up, or heard someone use this figure of speech?. (iStock)

Have you ever heard someone refer to an adorable infant as "cute enough to eat?"

According to researchers at the University of Montreal, it's not simply a figure of speech; that person may actually want to eat that baby, just a little bit.

A paper published this month in the journal Frontiers in Psychology describes the results of a study in which researchers mapped the brains of two groups of women; one who had never given birth, and another of those who had given birth within the past three to six weeks.

Both groups were asked to smell the pajamas of two-day old infants while their brains were scanned.

While the women were smelling the baby pajamas, scientists observed that the same "reward circuits" in their brains were activated as those linked to eating delicious food.

"This circuit makes us desire certain foods and causes addiction to tobacco and other drugs," said Johannes Frasnelli, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Montreal's Department of Psychology, in a news release. "Not all odours trigger this reaction. Only those associated with reward, such as food or satisfying a desire, cause this activation."

Furthermore, the group of mothers showed greater activation in the dopaminergic system of the caudate nucleus than those who had never given birth.

"The olfactory--thus non-verbal and non-visual--chemical signals for communication between mother and child are intense," explained Frasnelli,. "What we have shown for the first time is that the odour of newborns, which is part of these signals, activates the neurological reward circuit in mothers. These circuits may especially be activated when you eat while being very hungry, but also in a craving addict receiving his drug. It is in fact the sating of desire."

Fortunately, this impulse is fleeting -- and not one that mothers are compelled to act upon.

Scientists say that the reward circuit's response has evolved to encourage such maternal care functions as breastfeeding and protection.

It is not yet known whether this reaction is specific to women, since men were not a part of the study.

Have you ever felt an urge to "eat" a baby up, or heard someone use this figure of speech? Weigh in below.

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