Behavioral and Neural Responses to Infant and Adult Tears: The Impact of Maternal Love Withdrawal

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Abstract

The current study examined behavioral and neural responses to infant and adult tears, taking into account childhood experiences with parental love-withdrawal. With functional MRI (fMRI), we measured neural reactivity to pictures of infants and adults with and without tears on their faces in nulliparous women with varying childhood experiences of maternal use of love withdrawal. Behavioral responses to infant and adult tears were measured with an approach-avoidance task. We found that individuals with experiences of love withdrawal showed less amygdala and insula reactivity to adult tears, but love withdrawal did not affect amygdala and insula reactivity to infant tears. During the approach-avoidance task, individuals responded faster to adult tears in the approach condition compared with the avoidance condition, indicating that adult tears facilitate approach behavior. Individuals responded faster to infant tears than to adult tears, regardless of approach or avoidance condition. Our findings suggest that infant tears are highly salient and may, therefore, overrule the effects of contextual and personal characteristics that influence the perception of adult crying.

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