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Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Aug 15;56(4):225-32.

Mothers' neural activation in response to pictures of their children and other children.

Author information

Pediatrics and Developmental Neuropsychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

Erratum in

  • Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Oct 15;56(8):612.



Considerable literature has focused on neural responses evoked by face viewing. We extend that literature and explore the neural correlates of maternal attachment with an fMRI study in which mothers view photographs of their own children.


Seven mothers performed a one-back repetition detection task while viewing photographs of their own child, friends of their child, unfamiliar children, and unfamiliar adults.


Viewing one's own child versus a familiar child was associated with activation in the amygdala, insula, anterior paracingulate cortex, and posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS). Viewing familiar versus unfamiliar children elicited increased activation in regions associated with familiarity in adults. Viewing unfamiliar children versus unfamiliar adults was associated with activation in the fusiform gyrus, intraparietal sulcus, precuneus, and posterior STS.


The sight of one's own child versus that of a familiar child activates regions that mediate emotional responses (amygdala, insula) and are associated with theory of mind functions (anterior paracingulate cortex, posterior superior temporal sulcus). These activations may reflect the intense attachment, vigilant protectiveness, and empathy that characterize normal maternal attachment. The sight of an unfamiliar child's face compared with that of an unfamiliar adult engages areas associated with attention as well as face perception.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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