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Mothers who smile a lot at their babies and maintain eye contact “sync up” with them, improving brain development

The ability of babies to learn may be influenced by how their mothers interact with them. Researchers from Dartmouth College and the University of Cambridge in the U.K. found that babies learn when their mothers smile and maintain eye contact with them a lot.

In their study, the researchers discovered that babies’ neural activity that syncs well with their mothers’ is associated with how well they learn social cues about their toys. This suggested that babies’ brainwaves literally sync with their mothers when they are learning from them about their social environment.

The researchers reached this conclusion after looking at the brain activity of both babies and their mothers while wearing wireless electroencephalogram (EEG) technology headsets during active play. They analyzed how mothers’ emotional responses toward novel toys influenced their children’s decisions to interact with those toys.

The babies would watch their moms, who were also wearing wireless EGG and show either a positive or a negative emotion toward an object. Then, the babies would choose which object to play with. These cues could be smiling and saying, “I like this” or frowning and saying, “I don’t like this.”

They found that stronger neural synchrony, which occurs when brainwaves from two people follow predictable patterns with respect to each other, projected a higher likelihood of social learning by babies. They also found that social signals, such as eye contact, were linked to increased synchrony and enhanced social learning. However, the researchers failed to identify what exactly leads to neural synchrony.

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“When we connect neurally with others, we are opening ourselves to receiving information and influence from others. There is no substitute for being physically present and in the moment to connect with an infant,” said Dr. Victoria Leong, one of the researchers.

The findings of the study can have wide significance for classroom learning, developmental disorders, and social bonding. The researchers presented these findings at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society’s (CNS) annual meeting in San Francisco. The study was also part of the newer research into the social side of the brain that is shedding light on how brains act together with others.

Babies can smell their mothers’ fear

The connection between a mother and her child is strong. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discovered that babies may identify the things they should be afraid of through an odor that their mothers emit, even if the babies have not been exposed to that fearful experience beforehand.

“Before they can even make their own experiences, they basically acquire their mothers’ experiences. Most importantly, these maternally transmitted memories are long-lived, whereas other types of infant learning, if not repeated, rapidly perish,” explained Dr. Jacek Debiec, the study’s lead researcher.

The learning abilities of babies

Babies may appear like they don’t know anything, but they can see and hear what is happening around them. They can also communicate their needs and interests to others. Babies can also recognize the voices of their parents and differentiate them from others.

Parents are babies’ first teachers. Even their brain development is influenced by the care and experience their parents provide. Playing with babies is a way to help them learn. Babies need loving attention to help new brain cells connect in ways that help them feel secure and confident; make sense of new ideas and information; and grow healthy bodies.

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