Atzil, S. et al (2011)
Specifying the Neurobiological Basis of Human Attachment: Brain, Hormones, and Behaviour in Synchronous and Intrusive Mothers
Neuropsychopharmacology 36 : 2603-215

pdfSpecifying the Neurobiological Basis of Human Attachment (full summary)

  • Observations of mothers’ behaviour have shown that it can be classified broadly into two types: synchronous behaviour, which involves eye contact and “chatter” and leads to strong mother-infant attachment bonds, and “intrusive” behaviour without these features which does not lead to attachment.
  • An imaging technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging can be used to “look inside” the brain and make connections between behaviour and the activity in different brain regions.
  • A group of mothers of 4-6 month old children, classified as showing either “mainly synchronous” or “mainly intrusive” behaviour, were videoed playing with their babies, and the babies were videoed playing alone.
  • Synchronous and intrusive mothers showed different patterns of brain activity when they were shown videos of their own infant.
  • The brain region that showed most activity in the synchronous mothers was one that has been associated with reward, pleasure and laughter; the one that showed most activity in the intrusive mothers was one associated with emotion.
  • The researchers speculated that activation of these brain regions might reinforce care-giving and empathy in the synchronous mothers but over-stimulating and uncoordinated care in the intrusive mothers.