Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Maternal Brain: Its Effect on Behavior

My brother licking my sister's head



           Saw an interesting presentation and decided to write about what I learned. 

Dr. Fred Punzo discussed the physiological and behavioral changes females undergo during procreation in his captivating presentation, “The Maternal Brain: Its Effect on Behavior.” He showed the transition in the psychological orientation from virgin females to pregnant females and explained the factors leading to this transformation in women. His research indicated that pregnant women gained enhanced skills and senses during this process as a result of the hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy.
            Certain pregnancy hormones affect the processes in the brain differently in a pregnant female. The ovary secretes the female sex hormone, estrogen which affects the hypothalamus of the brain resulting in the release of neurotransmitters. Estrogen stimulates two processes: neurogenesis and synaptogensis. It also increases the size of the medical preoptic area (MPOA) and hippocampus. An increase in the hippocampus boosts spatial learning and short term memory in pregnant females. Oxytocin and prolactin are two additional major pregnancy hormones that affect the behavior in vertebrates. Oxytocin is a mammalian hormone that causes the uterine muscles to contract, strengthens immune system, and raises stress resistance. Prolactin is a peptide hormone that triggers the creation of oviduct jelly. The differences in behavior between pregnant females and virgin females were shown with pet scans of their brains. Punzo showed us an image of two brains belonging to a pregnant female and virgin female. The virgin female’s brain did not light up as much as the pregnant female’s. It proved that the activity of the brain, for both females, was different when processing olfactory information.  
            Pregnant females develop a multitude of maternal behaviors as a result of the breeding process.  These females are capable of grasping information more rapidly as opposed to virgin females. They are better at multitasking. Their olfactory sense, level of attentiveness, meticulousness regarding a particular task, and auditory stimuli are supposedly enhanced. Compared to rats and certain invertebrates like the wolf spider, pregnant females have similar behaviors. They feel a heightened need to protect their child and to make sure their child has a home and other necessities.
            Dr. Fred Punzo concluded that hormonal interactions that occur during a female’s pregnancy control their behavior in ways that surpasses the abilities of a virgin female and enhances their cognitive abilities.


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Sand-Dollared Cataract by Sofia Mitchell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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