The neural basis of maternal bonding

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Background: Accumulating evidence suggests that mothers show a different pattern of brain responses when viewing their own compared to other infants. However, there is inconsistency across functional imaging studies regarding the key areas involved, and none have examined relationships between brain and behavioural responses to infants. We examined the brain regions activated when mothers viewed videos of their own infant contrasted with an unknown infant, and whether these are associated with behavioural and self-reported measures of mother-infant relations. Method: Twenty right-handed mothers viewed alternating 30-sec blocks of video of own 4-9 month infant and an unfamiliar matched infant, interspersed with neutral video. Whole brain functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI) were acquired on a 1.5T Philips Intera scanner using a TR of 2.55 s. Videotaped mother-infant interactions were systematically evaluated blind to family information to generate behavioural measures for correlational analysis. Results: Enhanced blood oxygenation functional imaging responses were found in the own versus unknown infant contrast in the bilateral precuneus, right superior temporal gyrus, right medial and left middle frontal gyri and left amygdala. Positive mother-infant interaction (less directive parent behaviour; more positive/attentive infant behaviour) was significantly associated with greater activation in several regions on viewing own versus unknown infant, particularly the middle frontal gyrus. Mothers' perceived warmth of her infant was correlated with activations in the same contrast, particularly in sensory and visual areas. Conclusion: This study partially replicates previous reports of the brain regions activated in mothers in response to the visual presentation of their own infant. It is the first to report associations between mothers' unique neural responses to viewing their own infant with the quality of her concurrent behaviour when interacting with her infant and with her perceptions of infant warmth. These findings provide support for developing fMRI as a potential biomarker of parenting risk and change. © 2014 Wan et al.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere88436
JournalP L o S One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2014


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