Just Add Babies!
Since the early days of advertising, it’s been axiomatic that pictures of babies grab the attention of readers more effectively than any other kind of image. This has led advertisers to stick baby pictures in ads for every kind of product or service, whether or not infants are remotely relevant. As it turns out, all those advertisers were right on the money: our brains are wired to respond to baby faces, and even baby-like characteristics in adults.1
How we react to baby pictures was the topic of study using a neuroimaging technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG), which allows extremely fast measurements of brain activity. Amazingly, in as little as 150 milliseconds after being shown a photo of a baby’s face, a high level of activity was observed in the viewers’ medial orbitofrontal cortex. This area of the brain is associated with emotion. Adult photos had little or no effect on the same area.
There’s probably a good evolutionary reason for this. Human babies are vulnerable creatures, and their chances for survival are greater if they tug at the emotions of not just their parents but also of other adults.
The appeal of baby photos is a prime example of how neuroscience research will often serve to confirm what marketers have known either intuitively or through traditional research techniques. An intriguing aspect of the research is that the baby programming in our brains also affects how we perceive adult faces. Studies show that men prefer female faces with baby-like features. Women’s preferences are more complex, and depending on their stage of ovulation, may prefer faces that are either more masculine or more baby-like.
1. Morten L. Kringelbach et al., “A Specific and Rapid Neural Signature for Parental Instinct,” Plos One, February 27, 2008,
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