It’s a common way for women to have babies after enduring a miscarriage: often, it involves looking at an ultrasound of the uterus. But a new study in the journal Scientific Reports has found that a common, brief image of a smiling person held in an MRI scanner can help bring a bit more joy to a newborn’s life, depending on the baby’s gender.
The MRI scanner scans capture information from a female brain, using a technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG). This technique is being increasingly used, with a novel type of reflection obtained, in MRI scanners to better understand heritable neurological traits. MEG, as advances help researchers learn about specific brain brain processes, including those involved for expressing emotions such as happiness and compassion.
While the majority of the subjects in this study were white Caucasian, the study team also conducted 8- and 10-month studies in both male and female patients.
“Cato, and especially Cesare, were appreciative of the power of visual imagery in prenatal brain development, but our findings suggest that this is not always the case, in both genders,” said lead author Andrew McKinney, a PhD candidate at the Primate Research Imaging Centre at the University of Adelaide’s Complex Brain Research Unit.
“We found that formal modeling and image inference may be important for the development of the heritable ‘traits’ of emotion, but also that the functional reorganization is not always the same in both genders,” he said. “MRI imagery can provide both visual and cognitive clues as to emotions such as happiness and happiness, while MEG imaging may be helpful in identifying underlying emotional needs and resulting imbalanced emotional responses among children.”
However, it’s clear that the social interactions of a deeply emotionally engaged fetus can be as bad or as much worse than any momentary emotion.
“We were surprised to not only find differences in emotional experience, but also in the strength of that emotion, directly related to the image reached on MRI,” said co-senior author John Richardson, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of York in the UK. “The use of female versus male subjects in this study raised controversial questions about the effects of MEG training, and concerns about the reliability of some of the findings.”
The study co-senior author, Dr. Heather McKillip, who performed some of the studies, computer vision professor at the University of Leeds, said the differences could be a result of the baby’s gender, or fully independent of gender. “MRI images have multiple ways of showing a human’s mental state and body development but so, in current practice, they are not accompanied by any mention of emotion or feeling-related bodily feedback,” she said. “We believe that the performance in the current paper is machine-generated.”
The results have been done in an animal brain in virtual reality, which would not necessarily be as easy or user-friendly as putting the MRI in a child’s mouth. However, it would confer further information about the fetal care, the stress point in the fetal life, and a general understanding of some of the fundamental issues in human and animal neuroscience.
“MRI images have been subjected to rigorous peer-reviewing. I am encouraged that so many of us, but also especially the taboo-breaking enforcement of sex stereotypes, felt confident to address the work with a well-informed, modern thinking and open minded audience,” said co-senior author Beka Sonnebo, who heads the brains of several children at the University of Adelaide’s MRC Centre for Sensory Neuroscience.