There’s nothing that’ll melt the heart muscle quicker than your baby’s first smile. But science has long disputed the ‘realness’ of those early grins, asserting the cause to be reflex—even gas(!). But it seems new research could change that perspective; which is, of course, exactly what us parents like to hear.
We can’t help but smile at our perfect, precious newborn babes—it’s an impulse motivated by joy and love, and we don’t even require a reciprocal smile in return. But sometimes, we get one. Common thought tends to ruin the moment by contending neonatal smiles aren’t ‘real’—at least not like ours; but Emese Nagy, Reader of Psychology, at the University of Dundee, disagrees.
“There have long been signs that newborn smiles could signal positive emotions to some extent,” says Nagy. “Smiles have been noted in the first few days of life as a response to stroking of the cheek or the belly. Newborns also smile in response to sweet tastes and smells”.
Nagy explains that these findings, from studies published as far back as the 1960s, were not considered evidence of ‘real’ smiles as they didn’t look the same as “social smiles”—only involving the mouth, not the eyes.
“However, when scientists micro-analysed facial movements, frame by frame, using a dedicated coding system, smiles from as early as one day of age were more often than not accompanied by cheek and eye movements,” says Nagy.
What’s more, when newborns are awake, they smile twice as much compared to the smiles occurring during slumber—which could very well indicate they are responding directly to pleasing social stimuli.
In short, next time someone tries to tell you your newborn isn’t smiling—it’s just gas, you’ll know they’re the ones full of hot air.