Is there an innate maternal instinct in humans?

Maternal instinct

The mother instinct - maternal instinct - is colloquially the typical turn of a mother to her children, whereby in the narrower sense one understands a particularly strong emotional bond to the biological children, which is initiated primarily through the birth. Often the maternal instinct is described by the special connection between mother and child, which arises from fertilization or even from the desire to have children. Maternal behavior is also influenced by social and cultural circumstances and shaped by individual experiences.

It is believed that the maternal instinct evolved is and in some mammal species, especially primates, which have a long developmental period in children, is used for species conservation and social learning processes. All mammalian mothers exhibit maternal behavior or instincts, but that does not mean that every woman giving birth is automatically willing to adopt maternal behavior and care for her offspring. As a rule, pregnancy hormones are more likely to induce mothers to care for their newborns, with mothers gradually responding to various stimuli after they are born. From a scientific perspective, maternal instinct is nothing more than an attempt by nature to get women to care for their offspring day after day and night after night; That is, to protect the newborn with the utmost commitment. Interestingly this is tight Attachment relationship not just there from the day of birth, but only arises through complex interactions between mother and child.

Oxytocin is involved in the regulation of social behavior, including parental behavior, in a wide variety of living things by inducing social behavior by docking with oxytocin receptors in different areas of the brain. So far, however, there has been no clear evidence to suggest that the oxytocin system in the brain is different in women and men. Sharma et al. (2019) identified in mice now a region in the hypothalamus, which is different in males and females significantly from each other, because only females have there on brain cells that are sensitive to the neurotransmitter oxytocin. While female mice had numerous neurons with oxytocin receptors in this area, there were hardly any such cells in the males. These cells also had receptors for the female sex hormone estrogen, with the neurons no longer forming oxytocin receptors in the absence of the female sex hormone. The results show that the expression of oxytocin receptors is specifically female and depends on estrogen. These oxytocin-responsive neurons in this region of the hypothalamus thus play an important role in female physiology and behavior, above all for the maternal instinct. It is believed that this relationship applies not only to mice, but to all mammals showing maternal care, including humans.

Despite the deep belief in our culture that women are uniquely poised to want children, the notion of maternal instinct is a myth. Evidence for the theory that women naturally tend to have children is very scarce, if any.
Amy Blackstone

There is no scientific evidence that there is a maternal instinct that automatically makes women want to have children, makes women more emotional, gives them greater nurturing skills, or equips them to raise children better than men.
Maria Vicedo-Castello


Sharma, K., LeBlanc, R., Haque, M., Nishimori, K., Reid, M. M. & Teruyama, R. (2019). Sexually dimorphic oxytocin receptor-expressing neurons in the preoptic area of ​​the mouse brain. PLoS ONE, doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0219784.
Vicedo-Castello, Maria (2005). The Maternal Instinct: Mother Love and the Search for Human Nature. Harvard University.

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