Description: Certain infant facial characteristics, referred to as baby schema, are thought to automatically elicit parenting behavior and affective orientation toward infants. Only a few studies, conducted in adult non-parents, have directly examined the neural underpinnings of this baby schema effect by manipulating distinctiveness of baby schema in infant faces. The current study aims to further our understanding of the intuitive nature of parenting, by studying the baby schema effect in mothers of young children (2-6 years old). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to examine mothers’ (N=23) neural responses to unfamiliar infant faces varying in distinctiveness of baby schema, and how this neural activation to infant faces was associated with maternal nurturance. Results revealed that infant faces elicited widespread activation in bilateral visual cortices, the hippocampus, sensory-motor areas, parietal and frontal cortices, and the insula, which was not modulated by the distinctiveness of baby schema in the infant faces. Furthermore, higher self-reported maternal nurturance was related to increased neural responses to infant faces in the putamen and amygdala, brain regions known to be associated with reward and saliency processing. These findings imply that mothers are not sensitive at a neural level to variation in distinctiveness of baby schema. Also, unfamiliar infant faces might be rewarding only for mothers who report high nurturance. In line with findings in parents, reward and saliency processing might be most pronounced for stimuli related to one’s own child versus stimuli related to other children.
Related article: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2020.107493
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