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Empathetic Parents Barf When Their Kids Barf

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If you’re the type of parent who can barely hold the sick pale for your stomach bug-ridden tot, you can blame your sensitive neurons. There’s a reason you’re not as steely as those other parents who gird the vomit bag without flinching. And it has nothing to do with your inability to be a proper parent.

Msnbc spoke with two medical experts who posit that empathetic individuals spew when others do:

In human brains, scientists have discovered “mirror neurons” that cause some people to feel the same emotions as others around us. This explains why you might tear up when you see someone in the room cry.

If that sounds like you, when you see someone vomit, your brain feels empathy and causes you to actually feel that disgust with the other person, and so the food in your gut wants to come out…

So considering that associate editor Lindsay Cross had to flee from our offices today to care for her vomiting child — and thereby did not disintegrate into a stomach virus mess herself — means that she is clearly not an empathetic parent. Clearly!

But regardless of the empathy factor, families, or rather communities, puking in unison has its prehistoric benefits. When your entire home is struck down with food poisoning, remember that once upon a time, mass vomiting was a way to keep all us cave persons safe:

This wretched reaction is, in fact, still laced into our brains from ancient times – as a pure survival instinct, said Dr. Jennifer Hanes, an emergency physician at Northwest Hills Surgical Hospital in Austin, Texas.

“Humans are communal creatures, and if our ancestral brother began to vomit from spoiled food or other illness, likely we were exposed to the same pathogen as well,” said Hanes, author of “Lady in Weighting.” “When one person vomits, our body begins to retch to expel the germs or poison that may be in our system, but (have) not yet reached a toxic level to cause illness on our own.

“If one member of the tribe is sick or poisoned, chances are the other members are as well so it developed as a self-preservation reflex. If it affects you, just think of yourself as highly evolved,” Hanes said, adding: she has never vomited in the ER but has witnessed the reflex with nurses and medical students.

“Mirror neurons” are apparently “hard-wired,” which means that you can’t assuage those delicate senses with age or the number of kids you have. So just remember that when the chips are down and your entire house smells like lunch remnants warmed over, you’re really just experiencing an ancient throwback moment.

(photo: irawoods.com)