Strathearn, L. et al. (2009)
Adult Attachment Predicts Maternal Brain and Oxytocin Response to Infant Cues
Neuropsychopharmacology 34, 2655 – 2666

  • This is an important paper for the development of theories of how the brains of infants and their care-givers change as a bond grows between them.
  • The brains of mothers and other primary care-givers process visual and other information from their infants, and this normally leads to stimulation of pleasure and reward pathways in the brain and to hormonal changes that increase trust and care-giving.
  • In this paper, the neuronal and hormonal responses of mothers who were securely attached to their infants were compared to those who were insecurely attached.
  • Mothers who were securely attached to their infants secreted higher levels of the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin than the poorly attached mothers after they had all spent time playing with their babies. No such difference was observed in the levels of other hormones.
  • Securely attached mothers showed strong activity in areas of the brain involved in brain regions associated with reward when shown photos of happy faces of their own babies, compared to neutral or sad photos of their own baby or any photos of other babies.
  • Taken together, these results show that the brains and hormonal systems of mothers respond quickly to visual cues from their own infant, and that these responses are stronger where the attachment bond between mother and infant is secure.