Send to

Choose Destination
Soc Neurosci. 2014;9(4):352-63. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2014.896287. Epub 2014 Mar 17.

Mothers' unresolved trauma blunts amygdala response to infant distress.

Author information

a Department of Pediatrics , Baylor College of Medicine , Houston , TX , USA.


While the neurobiology of post-traumatic stress disorder has been extensively researched, much less attention has been paid to the neural mechanisms underlying more covert but pervasive types of trauma (e.g., those involving disrupted relationships and insecure attachment). Here, we report on a neurobiological study documenting that mothers' attachment-related trauma, when unresolved, undermines her optimal brain response to her infant's distress. We examined the amygdala blood oxygenation level-dependent response in 42 first-time mothers as they underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning, viewing happy- and sad-face images of their own infant, along with those of a matched unknown infant. Whereas mothers with no trauma demonstrated greater amygdala responses to the sad faces of their own infant as compared to their happy faces, mothers who were classified as having unresolved trauma in the Adult Attachment Interview (Dynamic Maturational Model) displayed blunted amygdala responses when cued by their own infants' sadness as compared to happiness. Unknown infant faces did not elicit differential amygdala responses between the mother groups. The blunting of the amygdala response in traumatized mothers is discussed as a neural indication of mothers' possible disengagement from infant distress, which may be part of a process linking maternal unresolved trauma and disrupted maternal caregiving.


Amygdala; Attachment; Mother–infant relationship; Unresolved trauma

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center