New research examines what goes on in the brains of mothers when they hear their infant crying. The findings may help to identify inadequate caregiving behavior.
A team led by researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) set out to explore the brain patterns involved in maternal responses to the sound of infants crying.
Marc Bornstein, Ph.D. — chief of the NICHD’s Section on Child and Family Research — led the research, and the findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to the new study, hearing the cry of an infant activates brain areas associated with movement and speech, and certain brain and behavioral patterns are universal across many cultures.
Behavior consistent with brain activity
In order to examine maternal response, the researchers analyzed the behavior of 684 mothers across 11 countries — “Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, and the United States” — representing a wide cultural variety.
In the first part of the study, they recorded and analyzed how mothers and infants interacted for 1 hour. During this time, the team looked for signs of affection, distraction, nurturing, and talking.
Examples of nurturing behavior included feeding the baby and changing their diaper. Additionally, the team looked at how often the mothers picked up the babies and held them.