Human bonding and mother instinct

As ScienceDaily reported (ScienceDaily) based on a study published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS ) the neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in human bonding, using the brain’s reward system to form human relationships, such as mother and child relationship, in both animal and human models.

The significance of the results according to the authors: Early life bonding in humans has critical long-term implications for health, productivity, and well-being in society. Nonetheless, neural mechanisms of bonding are typically studied in rodents, and no study,  to this date, has examined the neurochemistry of human social affiliation. This study utilizes a state-of-the-art technology to demonstrate that human maternal bonding is associated with striatal dopamine function and the recruitment of a corticostriatal–amygdala brain network that supports affiliation. The simultaneous probing of neurochemical responses and whole-brain network function in mothers watching their infants provides a unique observation into an “affiliating brain.” These results advance the mechanistic understanding of human social bonding and promote basic and clinical research in social neuroscience, development, and psychopathology.

On the other hand, the interpretations of this result (and of similar studies before) regarding the meaning of our lives may not be favorable. This study can be a blow for those who believe that our human relationships and actions are governed by our souls and not by biochemical processes of our body. Moreover, these processes are based on physical laws of nature and were shaped by a multi-billion-year evolution here on Earth. Consequently, someone may logically draw a conclusion that our human relationships, such as mother-and-child bond,  may not form the basis of the meaning of our individual lives as a mechanical and chemical reaction we have no decision about. Some may even incorrectly jump to the result that our lives are meaningless in general – we are just robots programmed to feel by chemicals.

Even if the above logic is mathematically correct, the conclusion may not be valid. Science demands proof. Many fantastic and well thought through hypothesis have failed in experiments. So even a proper logic does not mean that the conclusions are true and reflect reality.

Moreover, such pessimistic thoughts are partially just resulting from our disappointment and fear that we have no soul (we are not immortal), and that there are scientific explanations and background for our existence and behavior. This disappointment makes us jump to incorrect conclusions because the above logic is not watertight. It’s as if death would retrospectively eliminate our current existence as well, or as if our atoms and chemicals are not part of ourselves. The true problems, illustrated herein by questions are three-fold:

  • Do the facts that we have no soul and we have to die in the future automatically mean that there is no meaning of our life today and that the current meaning of our lives will automatically cease to exist with our death?
  • Do the facts that our body is made of atoms and elementary particles, and there are laws governing the behavior of such atoms and molecules, automatically mean that “we” actually do not exist and we don’t have any freedom to make decisions?
  • Will our feelings and affections, which are being produced by physical, biochemical and evolutionary processes, reduce their value and usefulness to us, our society, or humanity?

You can see that the seemingly logical first conclusions from the result of the above recent research are far from obvious. Later, we may return to these questions and topics in another blog.


This post is also available in: Hungarian