Home Family & Relationship Brain Responses to Infant Emotional Faces Differ Between Men and Women, Study Finds

Brain Responses to Infant Emotional Faces Differ Between Men and Women, Study Finds

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A study, published in the journal BMC Neuroscience, has found that women and men have different brain responses to infant emotional faces, which suggests different neural processing for women and men when recognising infant stimuli. Researchers combined task-functional magnetic resonance imaging and resting-state fMRI to investigate the effects of infant’s faces on the brain activity of 51 adults.

The study found that the brains of women and men reacted differently to infants’ faces, and these differential areas are in facial processing, attention, and empathetic networks. The connectivity of the default-mode network-related regions increased in women more than in men, and brain activations in regions related to emotional networks were associated with the empathetic abilities of women. Women’s differences might facilitate them to more effective and quick adjustments in behaviours and emotions during the nurturing infant period.

Infant emotional stimuli can preferentially engage adults’ attention and provide valuable information essential for successful interaction between adults and infants. Human infants depend on sensitive and adaptive caregiving behaviours from adults for a living. Both women and men can provide caregiving behaviours for their infants. However, traditionally, women take responsibility for early childcare, whereas men have little direct investment in offspring. Biological or cultural factors may produce different parenting behavioural responsiveness to infants in women and men.

The study investigated brain processes in women and men in response to the emotive sounds of infants. Independent of parental status, women showed a greater preference for infants than men. Some studies showed sex differences in brain responses to infant emotive sounds. The perceived sensitivity of caregivers in distinguishing between the expression of emotional and neutral state signals in infants and responding appropriately and accurately may be considered an important prerequisite for establishing a “secure” bonding.

Although the baby faces response is a fundamental social instinct that may be at the basis of human caregiving, its underlying neural mechanism is not well understood. Investigating individual differences in recognising and responding to infants’ faces contributes to maternal sensitivity, which can profoundly influence later child development.

The study found that women and men have different brain responses to infant emotional faces, and these differential areas are in facial processing, attention, and empathetic networks. The connectivity of the default-mode network-related regions increased in women more than in men, and brain activations in regions related to emotional networks were associated with the empathetic abilities of women. Women’s differences might facilitate them to more effective and quick adjustments in behaviours and emotions during the nurturing infant period.

The findings provide special implications and insights for understanding the neural processing of reacting to infant cues in adults. Investigating individual differences in recognising and responding to infants’ faces can contribute to maternal sensitivity, which can profoundly influence later child development. This study is a significant step in understanding the brain processes that underpin human caregiving and the development of early infant-caregiver relationships.

Further research is necessary to explore these neural mechanisms in more detail, such as whether these differences vary according to parity and whether men who have had a more direct investment in offspring have similar brain activity to women.

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