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Biol Psychiatry. 2003 Dec 15;54(12):1367-75.

Differential sex-independent amygdala response to infant crying and laughing in parents versus nonparents.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.



Animal and human studies implicate forebrain neural circuits in maternal behavior. Here, we hypothesized that human brain response to emotional stimuli relevant for social interactions between infants and adults are modulated by sex- and experience-dependent factors.


We used functional magnetic resonance imaging and examined brain response to infant crying and laughing in mothers and fathers of young children and in women and men without children.


Women but not men, independent of their parental status, showed neural deactivation in the anterior cingulate cortex, as indexed by decreased blood oxygenation level-dependent signal, in response to both infant crying and laughing. The response pattern changed fundamentally with parental experience: in the amygdala and interconnected limbic regions, parents (independent of sex) showed stronger activation from crying, whereas nonparents showed stronger activation from laughing.


Our data show sex- and experience-dependent modulation of brain response to infant vocalizations. Successful recognition and evaluation of infant vocalizations can be critical for bonding mechanisms and for offspring well-being and survival. Thus, the modulation of responses by experience seems to represent an adaptive mechanism that can be related to reproductive fitness.

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