Maternal instinct: latest findings

Maternal instinct: latest findings

There is much talk of the famous maternal instinct. A large number of mothers (perhaps all) come out in defense that the relationship between father and son is not as powerful and intense as that of mother and son. They affirm that the maternal instinct is real and that one must feel it to know it. Maybe the key is that you have to feel it, why? Because he is still pointing out that the brains of males and females work differently in some ways.

But to what extent is it true? Is it a different brain functioning? Is it a social conditioning? What is hidden behind the maternal instinct? You can already shed some more light on this subject because a study from the University of Louisiana, published in the journal PLOS ONE, offers us its conclusions that have reached the maternal instinct. Y apparently the key is in the brain.


  • 1 Maternal Instinct
  • 2 What is oxytocin?
  • 3 Postpartum depression

Maternal Instinct

From Louisiana State University, the Sharma and LeBlanc team (2019) have discovered that certain hormones such as oxytocin or prolactin, involved in the development of the maternal instinct, they are not found in the same area of ​​the male and female brain. So far, research has been carried out with rodents, however, it is an important finding since it could be extrapolated to humans. In this way, the brain situation of these hormones would be a fundamental factor for the development of the maternal instinct.

Ryoichi Teruyama, one of the researchers says that this is the first study that obtains firm evidence about the difference between the male and female oxytocin system. A very meticulous work was done marking the location of thousands of oxytocin receptor cells in mice of both sexes. According to the results of the study "The expression of oxytocin receptor cells only manifests when estrogen - female hormone - is present". These results represent another indication of the relationship between oxytocin and maternal instinct.

A curious fact that has been observed is the role that oxytocin plays in the maternal instinct in relation to the recognition of children's crying. Until now, this has only been observed in mice, but it is still surprising and, perhaps, extrapolated to future research.

Apparently, mothers are able to recognize the ultrasound emitted by their young. It has been discovered that this fact is due to the fact that the memory of these cries is stored in the auditory cortex and it has oxytocin receptors and precursors thereof. The amazing thing about research is that when oxytocin receptors have been blocked in mothers, they become insensitive to the crying of their young.

What is oxytocin?

As Florez-Acevedo and Cárdenas (2016) describe, "Oxytocin is a nenpeptide hormone consisting of nine amino acids: cysteine, tyrosine, isoleucine, glutamine, asparagine, cysteine, proline, leucine and glycine, with a sulfur bridge between the two cysteines ". The authors emphasize that Oxytocin would be involved in behaviors such as maternal, reproductive and social bonding..

The Sharma and LeBlanc (2019) team postulates that the "oxytocinparticipates in the regulation of social behaviors, including the behaviors of parents in different species ". These social behaviors would be triggered by oxytocin binding to oxytocin receptors in various parts of the brain. The authors point to the preoptic area (region of the hypothalamus) as a place where there are hormone-sensitive sexual dimorphic nuclei.

Florez-Acevedo and Cárdenas emphasize that the role of oxytocin in males is related to erectile functioning, in copulatory activity and ejaculation. In females, oxytocin highlights its role in sexual maturation and the manifestation of attractive behaviors. In both sexes, it would be a orgasm marker and would facilitate the transport of sperm to the ovule through the contraction of the corresponding muscles.

Postpartum depression

After childbirth, a large number of women suffer from depression. The Sharman and LeBlanc team are also hopeful that These findings can be generalized and can contribute to developing new treatments for postpartum depression.. In this type of depression the main neurotransmitter is oxytocin, therefore, this type of research can be a great advance in the improvement of this type of disorder.

It is an important type of depression because it can also affect the child in the long term. Among the problems that a depressed mother's child can develop are: emotional, cognitive, behavioral and medical problems. Teruyama, states in this regard that "I think our discovery could be universal for all mammals that exhibit maternal behavior, including humans.".

In this way, this research could not only explain the maternal instinct, but it can shed light to try to prevent postpartum depression and problems in the offspring associated with it.


  • Florez-Acevedo, S. and Cardenas, F. (2016). Role Modulating Oxytocin in Interaction
    Social and Stress. Universitas Psychologica, 15 (5).
  • Sharma, K., LeBlanc, R., Hague, M., Nishimori, K., Reid, M. and Teruyama, R. (2019). Sexually dimorphic oxytocin receptor-expressing neurons in the preoptic area of ​​the mouse brain. PLoS One, 14 (7).