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Cereb Cortex. 2009 Feb;19(2):284-92. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn081. Epub 2008 May 30.

Prefrontal activation associated with social attachment: facial-emotion recognition in mothers and infants.

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Department of Psychology, Keio University, 2-15-45 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-8345, Japan.

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  • Cereb Cortex. 2009 Apr;19(4):992.


Attachment between mothers and infants is the most primitive and primary form of human social relationship. Many reports have suggested that the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) plays a significant role in this attachment; however, only a select few provide experimental neurophysiological evidence. In the present study, to determine the neural substrates underlying the social and emotional attachment between mothers and infants, we measured their prefrontal activation by using near-infrared spectroscopy. We used movie stimuli that could robustly induce a positive affect, and the results for viewing own versus unfamiliar infants showed that own-infant viewing elicited increased activations around the anterior part of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in the mothers. Their response magnitude in that area was also correlated with the behavioral rating of the pleasant mood of infants. Furthermore, our study revealed that the infants' prefrontal activation around the anterior OFC is specific to viewing their mothers' smile. These results suggest the OFC's role in regulating and encoding the affect in attachment system and also show that infants share similar neuronal functions with mothers, associated with their bonds at 1 year of age. We further discussed infants' prefrontal activations and their implications for the development of the social brain network.

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