FACT CHECK: Does This MRI Of A Mother and Baby Show The Release Of Oxytocin?

Hannah Hudnall | Fact Check Reporter

A post shared on Facebook purportedly shows a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) picture of a baby’s brain releasing oxytocin in response to its mother’s kiss.

Verdict: False

The woman pictured in the MRI image confirmed the red and orange spots are unrelated to the release of oxytocin.

Fact Check:

Text above the image of the MRI scan reads, “This is the first MRI of a mother kissing her baby. Her kiss has caused a chemical reaction in her baby’s brain that released a burst of oxytocin (a hormone that produces feelings of affection and attachment). It’s an MRI of #love!” Included in the image is a watermark for the Instagram handle @SeekTheBeyond.

The hormone oxytocin facilitates childbirth and lactation, as well as serves important functions in certain human behaviors, according to the Hormone Health Network, a public education affiliate of the Endocrine Society. Oxytocin levels are primarily measured in blood and cerebrospinal fluids, according to Stanford Medicine.

Through a reverse image search, Check Your Fact traced the image back to a December 2015 Smithsonian Magazine article titled “Why I Captured This MRI of a Mother and Child.” The author, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe, identified herself and her infant son as being the subjects of the MRI image.

The same scan, created by Saxe and Martinos Imaging Center assistant director Atsushi Takahashi, can also be found on MIT’s Koch Institute Pubic Galleries website. In the original version, no red or orange spots are visible in the scan. (RELATED: Does This Image Show The ‘Most Detailed Model Of A Human Cell To Date’?) 

In September 2019, Saxe posted a lengthy tweet thread about the MRI scan image. In the thread, Saxe said that the red and orange spots “have nothing to do with oxytocin, hormones, kissing, or breastfeeding.” They actually show “activations” of “hemodynamic responses” in the brain of the baby, according to her tweet thread.

The “activations” came from a “fMRI study on infant brains” that was investigating the “organization of functional activity in infant brains when viewing meaningful visual images, like faces and natural scenes,” Saxe explained. They were later overlaid on the MRI scan of the pair, according to her tweet thread.

Hannah Hudnall

Fact Check Reporter