Brain-to-brain synchrony in parent-child dyads and the relationship with emotion regulation revealed by fNIRS-based hyperscanning

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Abstract

Parent-child synchrony, the coupling of behavioral and biological signals during social contact, may fine-tune the child's brain circuitries associated with emotional bond formation and the child's development of emotion regulation. Here, we examined the neurobiological underpinnings of these processes by measuring parent's and child's prefrontal neural activity concurrently with functional near-infrared spectroscopy hyperscanning. Each child played both a cooperative and a competitive game with the parent, mostly the mother, as well as an adult stranger. During cooperation, parent's and child's brain activities synchronized in the dorsolateral prefrontal and frontopolar cortex (FPC), which was predictive for their cooperative performance in subsequent trials. No significant brain-to-brain synchrony was observed in the conditions parent-child competition, stranger-child cooperation and stranger-child competition. Furthermore, parent-child compared to stranger-child brain-to-brain synchrony during cooperation in the FPC mediated the association between the parent's and the child's emotion regulation, as assessed by questionnaires. Thus, we conclude that brain-to-brain synchrony may represent an underlying neural mechanism of the emotional connection between parent and child, which is linked to the child's development of adaptive emotion regulation. Future studies may uncover whether brain-to-brain synchrony can serve as a neurobiological marker of the dyad's socio-emotional interaction, which is sensitive to risk conditions, and can be modified by interventions.

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