Neural Responses to Infant Emotions and Emotional Self-Awareness in Mothers and Fathers during Pregnancy

Neuroscientific research has largely investigated the neurobiological correlates of
maternal and (to a much lesser extent) paternal responsiveness in the post-partum period. In
contrast, much less is known about the neural processing of infant emotions during pregnancy.
Twenty mothers and 19 fathers were recruited independently during the third trimester of
pregnancy. High-density electroencephalography (hdEEG) was recorded while expectant parents
passively viewed images representing distressed, ambiguous, happy, and neutral faces of unknown
infants. Correlational analyses were performed to detect a link between neural responses to infant
facial expressions and emotional self-awareness. In response to infant emotions, mothers and
fathers showed similar cerebral activity in regions involved in high-order socio-affective processes.
Mothers and fathers also showed different brain activity in premotor regions implicated in highorder
motor control, in occipital regions involved in visuo-spatial information processing and visual
mental imagery, as well as in inferior parietal regions involved in attention allocation. Low
emotional self-awareness negatively correlated with activity in parietal regions subserving empathy
in mothers, while it positively correlated with activity in temporal and occipital areas implicated in
mentalizing and visual mental imagery in fathers. This study may enlarge knowledge on the neural
response to infant emotions during pregnancy.

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Cristina Trentini
Marco Pagani
Marco Lauriola
Renata Tambelli
MDPI,, Basel
International journal of environmental research and public health (Online) 17 (2020): 1–21. doi:10.3390/ijerph17093314
info:cnr-pdr/source/autori:Cristina Trentini, Marco Pagani , Marco Lauriola and Renata Tambelli/titolo:Neural Responses to Infant Emotions and Emotional Self-Awareness in Mothers and Fathers during Pregnancy/doi:10.3390/ijerph17093314/rivista:Internation
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Ritratto di Marco Pagani
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