Scientists are mapping babies' brains on pain for the first time, and they've found that the youngsters respond to the stimulus much like adults, as reported in Time magazine.
Researchers at Oxford University watched infants as young as a day old as their brains processed a light prodding of their feet. Reporting their findings in eLife, they observed which areas of the infants' brains became more active, or consumed more oxygen, as the scientists lightly poked their feet. Then they did the same for adults and compared brain images from both groups.
According to the findings, in adult brains, 20 regions were activated by the painful stimulus, and the newborns shared 18 of these.
"The infant's brain is much more developed than I was expecting," said Rebeccah Slater, an associate professor of pediatric neuroimaging at Oxford. "I might have thought that some information might have gone to the sensory areas of the brain—telling the baby something was happening on the foot, for example—but I didn't necessarily think it would go to areas more commonly involved in emotional processing such as the anterior cingular cortex, which is thought be involved in the unpleasantness associated with an experience."
Slater hopes her research "provides incentive to more researchers to find better ways of measuring pain in babies, and prioritize the importance of providing the best pain relief possible in children."