French Professor to Lecture On Sensory Influences

The Dijon lecture series at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) continues on Thursday, March 28, with a talk by neuroscientist and cultural anthropologist Benoist Schaal, who will share his observations about sensory influences – particularly focusing on smell – on parent-infant exchanges.

Schaal will present his findings in a lecture entitled “The Irresistible Odor of Mom: From the Day You Were Born and Before.” The lecture is free and open to the public and will take place from 4 to 5 p.m. in Room 2.602C of the Student Union, with a reception immediately following.

Schaal will discuss how the senses – sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell – affect parent-infant exchanges and are important in early development. In particular, he will explore how sound and visual exchanges have been shown to be strong regulators of the mother-infant relationship while other senses, including smell, are hidden from ordinary observation and therefore have received less attention.

“Both mother and infant possess the ability to recognize each other by smell,” said Schaal. “In fact, when simultaneously presented with the odors of different infants matched for age and sex, mothers show reliable recognition of their own infants’ individual odor. And for infants, particularly those who are breast-fed, the odor of its mother’s armpit elicits greater recognition than the same odor from an unfamiliar mother.”

Schaal also plans to address the idea that even though smell escapes ordinary observation, it creates an important channel of information exchange between mother and baby. For example, maternal odor signals may affect an infant’s recognition response and cuing of feeding and digestive function. Equally, infant signals may affect maternal responses such as detection of well-being, regulation of empathy and influence on lactation processes.

Schaal received an M.S. in animal biology from the Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, an M.S. in behavioral biology from the University of Franche-Comté and an M.S. in social and cultural anthropology from the Université Marc Bloch in Strasbourg. He obtained his Ph.D. in neurosciences at University of Franche-Comté.

Most recently, Schaal has been researching the role of odors in the relationship between mothers and infants in an animal model – the rabbit – as well as continuing his research on humans.

Schaal is the third of four faculty members from the University of Burgundy at Dijon, France, scheduled to lecture at UTD under an exchange of scholars between the two institutions during the 2001-2002 school year. Six members of the UTD faculty will visit Dijon during the same period.

For additional information about the lecture series, please call UTD’s School of Human Development at (972) 883-2355.


Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].