The Brain Basis of Maternal Responsiveness: Systematic review and meta-analysis of neural pathways

  • Josie Austin

    Student thesis: Unknown


    Several studies have used fMRI in an attempt to establish whether there is a neural network specific to maternal responsiveness, but their sample size has generally been small to moderate, and data have never been synthesised quantitatively.Here, a systematic review and meta-analysis of existing data was carried out. The analysis revealed that there is neural activation associated with healthy mothers' exposure to children, which is stronger in response to own versus other children. This includes areas associated with visual processing, attention, executive functioning, emotion processing and reward. The activation of many of the brain areas associated with reward and obsession, as well as the deactivation of areas associated with negative emotions, was specific to exposure to mothers' own children. To a large degree these findings are in line with Swain's (2008) model of parental responsiveness.There is a lack of evidence concerning the specificity of the identified neural activation to maternal responsiveness. Nevertheless, the identified brain network may serve as a biomarker of healthy maternal responsiveness for future research and may be used in the development of novel parenting interventions.
    Date of Award1 Aug 2013
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorRichard Drake (Supervisor), Kathryn Abel (Supervisor) & Vanessa May (Supervisor)


    • systematic review
    • meta-analysis
    • maternal responsiveness
    • maternal brain
    • mother
    • neural pathways

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