Unravelling the mystery of “mommy brain”

Headshot of Dr. Marla Morden

Dr. Marla Morden, a VIU Psychology Professor, is using innovative eye-tracking technology to study the phenomenon known as “mommy brain.”  Vancouver Island University Photo

March 1, 2024 - 10:15am

VIU Psychology Professor Dr. Marla Morden is using innovative eye-tracking technology to conduct her research.

Dr. Marla Morden, a Vancouver Island University (VIU) Psychology Professor, is researching the phenomenon commonly called “mommy brain” or “baby brain.”

It is typically viewed as a time of cognitive decline with symptoms such as memory loss or brain fog. However, Morden says researchers are starting to see it more as a time of reorganization and that there are some positive gains during pregnancy and the early postpartum period.

“There are not only deficits happening, but we also think there are some areas where pregnant women show advantages in terms of their thinking and memory processes,” said Morden. “There is some intriguing research showing that pregnant women are more vigilant to threat-related stimuli. This can be things like people who are sick because pregnant women’s immune systems are suppressed, which means the developing fetus can be more vulnerable to different pathogens.”

Morden said emerging evidence also suggests pregnancy is a sensitive period for information processing. Pregnant women seem to be attuned to faces and facial expressions and they seem to have a better memory for faces.

Morden is using eye-tracking technology – specifically, eye-tracking glasses – to conduct her research. The technology measures eye movements, pupil position and dilation and what the person is focusing on or what they ignore. Morden is studying three categories of stimuli. She’ll expose research participants to posters of infants, people who are sick and of faces. She also plans to have some studies with mothers interacting with their babies to see what the mother concentrates on.

“This is critical foundational research to understand what pregnant women are vigilant or attuned to,” said Morden. “There is an emerging body of research suggesting that when women are very stressed out, or if they’re experiencing anxiety or depression, this can have a long-term negative impact on the developing fetus. Understanding what captures pregnant women’s attention may help us to plan interventions and help to support mother and infant health.”

Morden is conducting her research thanks to $85,248 in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the BC Knowledge Development Fund and other funding sources. Dr. Yoichi Mukai, a VIU Modern Language Studies Professor, and Morden received the funding jointly. The grant is helping to establish the Vancouver Island University Eye-Tracking Hub, which will create capacity in the central Island region for non-invasive cognitive assessment research.


Media Contact:

Rachel Stern, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

C: 250.618.0373l E: Rachel.Stern@viu.ca | X: @VIUNews

Tags: Psychology | Research

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