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Synchronous caregiving from birth to adulthood tunes humans' social brain: Researchers

ANI | March 31, 2021 05:14 AM
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Washington [US], March 31 (ANI): Synchronous caregiving from birth to adulthood tunes humans' social brain, said researchers in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

The scientists who conducted the research were Adi Ulmer Yaniv, Roy Salomon, Shani Waidergoren, Ortal Shimon-Raz, Amir Djalovski, and Ruth Feldman.

The researchers explained why the study is significant. The birth-to-adulthood study tested the effects of maternal-newborn contact and synchronous caregiving on the social processing brain in human adults. "For two decades, we followed preterm and full-term neonates, who received or lacked initial maternal bodily contact, repeatedly observing mother-child social synchrony. We measured the brain basis of affect-specific empathy in young adulthood to pinpoint regions sensitive to others' distinct emotions," the scientists said.

Maternal-newborn contact enhanced social synchrony across development, which, in turn, predicted amygdalar and insular sensitivity to emotion-specific empathy. Findings demonstrate the long-term effects of maternal caregiving in humans, similar to their role in other mammals, particularly in tuning core regions implicated in salience detection, simulation, and interoception that sustain empathy and human attachment.

The researchers said that mammalian young are born with immature brain and rely on the mother's body and caregiving behavior for maturation of neurobiological systems that sustain adult sociality. While research in animal models indicated the long-term effects of maternal contact and caregiving on the adult brain, little is known about the effects of maternal-newborn contact and parenting behavior on social brain functioning in human adults.

"We followed human neonates, including premature infants who initially lacked or received maternal-newborn skin-to-skin contact and full-term controls, from birth to adulthood, repeatedly observing mother-child social synchrony at key developmental nodes. We tested the brain basis of affect-specific empathy in young adulthood and utilized multivariate techniques to distinguish brain regions sensitive to others' distinct emotions from those globally activated by the empathy task," said the researchers.

The amygdala, insula, temporal pole (TP), and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) showed high sensitivity to others' distinct emotions. Provision of maternal-newborn contact enhanced social synchrony across development from infancy and up until adulthood. The experience of synchrony, in turn, predicted the brain's sensitivity to emotion-specific empathy in the amygdala and insula, core structures of the social brain. Social synchrony linked with greater empathic understanding in adolescence, which was longitudinally associated with higher neural sensitivity to emotion-specific empathy in TP and VMPFC. Findings demonstrate the centrality of synchronous caregiving, by which infants practice the detection and sharing of others' affective states, for tuning the human social brain, particularly in regions implicated in salience detection, interoception, and mentalization that underpin affect sharing and human attachment. (ANI)

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