In possibly the most adorable study ever conducted, researchers have discovered just why babies smell so sweet, reported the Huffington Post on September 24. You might assume it's baby powder. But here's the study surprise: It actually ties into your brain's reward centers, which are activated when you smell or taste foods like freshly baked doughnuts or cookies (yum) or, based on this study, the sweet smell of a baby.
The odor of a newborn baby triggers a surge of dopamine that's almost identical to the reward response that occurs when you satisfy your food cravings, said the researchers. So if you've ever cooed that a tiny baby smells "good enough to eat," the researchers say you're responding to the activation of an odor associated with rewards, "such as food." (However, please do not try nibbling on those tiny toes.)
To conduct the study, researchers extracted fresh baby smell from the pajamas of infants who were two days old. Mothers comprised one group of study participants, while the others had never had children. The results: "The smells were shown to elicit activation in the women's brains' reward circuits."
However, mothers responded more strongly to the odor. University of Montreal researcher and study co-author Johannes Frasnelli linked that response to the possibility "that childbirth causes hormonal changes that alter the reward circuit ... but it is also possible that experience plays a role."
Although men were not included in the study, according to Live Science's September 23 report, the mothers who were studied showed that smelling babies activated "the neurological reward circuit" when evaluated through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The brain scans revealed "heightened activity in the dopamine pathway of the caudate nucleus — a region near the center of the brain that plays a role in reward learning," according to the researchers.
A related recent study showed that artificially sweetened foods and beverages do not trigger the dopamine response in the same way as sugar: Learn more by clicking here.