Neurobiology of culturally common maternal responses to infant cry
Bornstein, Marc H.
Putnick, Diane L.
Swain, James E.
Suwalsky, Joan T. D.
Cote, Linda R.
De Pisapia, Nicola
Date of Issue2017
College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
This report coordinates assessments of five types of behavioral responses in new mothers to their own infants’ cries with neurobiological responses in new mothers to their own infants’ cries and in experienced mothers and inexperienced nonmothers to infant cries and other emotional and control sounds. We found that 684 new primipara mothers in 11 countries (Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, France, Kenya, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and the United States) preferentially responded to their infants’ vocalizing distress by picking up and holding and by talking to their infants, as opposed to displaying affection, distracting, or nurturing. Complementary functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analyses of brain responses to their own infants’ cries in 43 new primipara US mothers revealed enhanced activity in concordant brain territories linked to the intention to move and to speak, to process auditory stimulation, and to caregive [supplementary motor area (SMA), inferior frontal regions, superior temporal regions, midbrain, and striatum]. Further, fMRI brain responses to infant cries in 50 Chinese and Italian mothers replicated, extended, and, through parcellation, refined the results. Brains of inexperienced nonmothers activated differently. Culturally common responses to own infant cry coupled with corresponding fMRI findings to own infant and to generic infant cries identified specific, common, and automatic caregiving reactions in mothers to infant vocal expressions of distress and point to their putative neurobiological bases. Candidate behaviors embedded in the nervous systems of human caregivers lie at the intersection of evolutionary biology and developmental cultural psychology.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
© 2017 The author(s) (published by National Academy of Sciences). This is the author created version of a work that has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, published by National Academy of Sciences on behalf of the author(s). It incorporates referee’s comments but changes resulting from the publishing process, such as copyediting, structural formatting, may not be reflected in this document. The published version is available at: [http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1712022114].