This isn’t so much of a look at science or philosophy, well maybe a little bit. This is more of a humorous story that I may be able to relate to some basic human instincts because my brain seems to link simple events to complex scientific and social theories.

The story goes like this; I was with my girlfriend, who I’ve been with for a few years now. We were picking some stuff up at a local drug store when she noticed a display near the toy isle of the store. The display was of a newish line of beenie babies that are designed to mimic baby animals. She was imeaditly drawn to the rows of giant eyed stuffed animals looking eagerly for loving parents. I, being the cinical person that I am, lovingly poked fun at her for having her heart melted by these toys; she tends to do this alot recently. She then told me that she wasn’t like that until we started getting serious in our relationship. At the time I didn’t understand how that could work. And then she picked up the baby penguin and asked me how I could say no to its face. I bought the little guy along with the advil and vitamins that I picked up that day.

How could I say no to this?

This got me thinking about my girlfriend telling me that she didn’t used to get weak at the knees at the site of cute things until we became serious. What if the parenting instinct has a trigger of some kind? I think this because I never would have bought my little baby penguin before I entered into a serious relationship. So now I understand both what my girlfriend meant, as well as the parenting instinct.

But now I have more questions about human instinct than I did before.  How did my parenting instinct know that I was in a serious relationship?  It can’t be physical intimacy because people all over the world have one night stands and that doesn’t make them suddenly parental.  It could be that I just ignored this protective part of myself until being in a relationship.  This got me thinking about the parenting instinct, and human empathy in general, and I think I have an idea about how parenting instinct may come about.

When I was researching the parenting instinct I found many different views on this phenomenon.  Some people believe that parenting and love in general are learned behaviors, the nurture over nature view, other people seemed to believe that there is a distinct chemical signal that triggers instincts like parenting.  Neither one of these really gripped me since I don’t believe in extremes.  I don’t favor nature over nurture or the other way around but rather that nurture works with nature to create our personal and social behaviors.  Then I found some research that made sense to me.

This article got me thinking about the potential connection between nature and nurture when it comes to the desire to be good to other people, including children or babies.  The one part of the article that shows this comes when a study by Emory University neuroscientists, James Rilling and Gregory Berns is mentioned.  This study found that helping people activates the pleasure and reward center of the brain.  This got me thinking about my situation with my little baby penguin and how I wouldn’t have been so taken with the little guy before I met my girlfriend.  What if the phenomenon that people call parenting instinct comes from the reward center of the brain being activated by having a significant other?  Maybe the social rewards of being with a person for a long time turn on the parts of the brain that prep us to reproduce and pass on our genetics?  We are an animal that mates for life after all, well most of us are anyway. 🙂

But this is just my opinion.  Chime in and let me know what you think.