Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What Is Baby Brain?

What good is science if it cannot invent idiotic phrases to describe biological phenomena? In this case, researchers have discovered that what they call "baby brain" is real.

Other researchers, especially at the University of Barcelona, have tracked the changes that take place in a pregnant woman’s brain. Most of them involve allow the expectant mother to have more of the intuitive skills and sensitivity that she will need in order to attend to the needs of a newborn. Since men do not undergo the same brain change, no one with half a functioning brain would suggest that men can adequately serve as replacement mothers.

One must also mention that some commentators have suggested that pregnant women suffering from baby brain are becoming smarter, and more capable of doing their corporate jobs. The Deakin University scientists have put the lie to this absurdity. 

If they hadn’t we always have the example of Marissa Mayer, chosen to be the CEO of Yahoo! while pregnant… because the Board of Yahoo! understood better than most that pregnancy and childbirth had no effect on a woman’s capacity to function at the highest corporate level.

Remind me, how successful was CEO Mayer at Yahoo?

The Daily Mail reports:

Research has proven 'baby brain' as a genuine phenomenon which affects the functionality of four in five pregnant women. 

The research conducted by Victoria's Deakin University found the majority of expectant mothers suffer from forgetfulness, reading difficulties, confusion, disorientation and poor concentration.

'Baby brain' was found to be most prominent during the third trimester of pregnancy, where functionality and memory is 'significantly reduced', the Daily Telegraph reported. 

If you require a consolation, or better a feminist misinterpretation, the researchers suggest that baby brain does not impair cognitive functioning. Because forgetfulness, reading difficulties, confusion, disorientation and poor concentration are not cognitive functions. It’s good to see ideology corrupt science.

But although the phenomenon is real and quantifiable, Prof Byrne said its effect is minimal and still allows pregnant women to perform within the normal range of cognitive function.  

She added: 'It’s not something that is at a level that we need to worry about, it is not going to affect how a woman does her job and day-to-day life.'

The cognitive changes are suspected to be related to the brain 'reorganising itself' and prioritising other tasks during pregnancy, Prof Byrne said.    

The issue is: what precisely does she mean by a normal range of cognitive functioning. Does that mean that she can function perfectly well as a real estate agent? Does it mean that she cannot function as a CEO, which requires a much higher level of cognitive functioning?

Importantly, and to be fair to everyone, only 80% of women suffer baby brain. This means that some pregnant women do not have the cognitive impairments that accompany it. 


Jack Fisher said...

The Case against Motherhood. The maternal instinct is hundreds of millions of years old, and arose in sharks, which are live-bearers. Sharks have a natural instinct to destroy and eat schools of smaller fish, which would bode evil for baby sharks. There's a gene that evolved to turn off this destroy everything behavior in mother sharks. That's the beginning the maternal instinct. I don't want that gene activated in my professional employees. I need them to instinctively want them to kill. Baby brain seems to be the end result of the evolution that began with sharks. So no baby brains in my office.

trigger warning said...

Without addressing the reality of "baby brain" {and there are surely biochemical dynamics during pregnancy that might, in some way presently unknown, affect cognitive processing}, this paper should be taken with circumspection.

To begin with, it's a very uninformative brief report, (< 1 page) with a graduate student as lead author.


Having said that, the larger problem is the problem with meta-analysis per se. It's a very popular way of scrounging statistical significance out of confusing studies without doing much work, but unfortunately, it suffers from many problems (nonlinear correlations, subjective study selection, apples-to-oranges comparisons etc), Perhaps the most consequential is the File Drawer Effect... i.e., selecting studies from the published literature despite the known and obvious bias of journals to publish studies with statistically significant results and reject papers with no significant effects.

The Daily Mail and Telegraph articles are, however, perfect examples of "science journalism" at work, hyping studies that have popular and controversial political ramifications.

"Research has proven..."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

See also my post about the radiological work on the issue:


L. Beau said...

I don't want that gene activated in my professional employees. I need them to instinctively want them to kill.

Good Lord help me, Jack, I have decided to believe, but I am not completely certain, that you are being sarcastic.

Sam L. said...

L. Beau, I'm pretty dang certain Jack's sarcastic...bigly; yuuuuuuuugely, even.

Jack Fisher said...

If you're past the point of mediation or negotiation, and you're headed for a lawsuit, whether civil, criminal or family, you want to hire the most competent, aggressive asshole lawyer you can afford.

Anonymous said...

No shortage of asshole lawyers. Just a shortage of bus stop benches to advertise.

Jack Fisher said...

anon, I'm not talking about the lawyer you've got on retainer for your DUIs.