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What is it about the sight of an infant that makes almost everyone crack a smile? Is it the way they look, the way they smell or even the way they look at us? These were some of the questions addressed at the NRF Science for Society lecture on Wednesday, 6 December 2017 at the Nelson Mandela Children’s hospital.

Professor Morten Kringelbach lecture, titled “The Parental Brain- New Insights from Brain Imaging” explained how all these characteristics contribute to 'cuteness' and how they help to trigger caregiving behaviours, vital as infants need constant attention to survive and thrive.

According to Professor Kringelbach, the study indicates that cuteness of infants affects both men and women, even those without children. Cuteness plays a key role in facilitating the parent-infant relationship, considered to be a social template of all later human relationships. It further supports key parenting capacities which include providing focus of attention on the infant and associated contingent responsiveness, emotional scaffolding especially when infant is distressed and behavioral sensitivity to attachment cues.

Cuteness is a positive stimulus, which elicits fast brain responses that priorities infant signals in adults.  This activity is followed by slower processing in the large brain networks also involved in play, empathy and perhaps even higher order moral emotions.

This lecture exemplified the power of science to reveal knowledge which can help parents and the society at larger, to understand how children’s experiences of their environments and their relationships, especially early in life, profoundly shape their development and lifelong trajectory.

Professor Kringelbach’s lecture was followed by a captivating panel discussion which included two internationally renowned South African researchers, Professor Linda Richter, Director of DST.NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development at University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)and Dr Barack Morgan, neuroscientist and medical doctor.

Click here to listen to the NRF Science for Society Lecture Series podcast

This NRF Science for Society lecture was in collaboration with the Brain Matters initiative of the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development at Wits and the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) 

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Press Release
Nelson Mandela Children, NRF, Science for Society lecture, Professor Morten Kringelbach