The functional neuroanatomy of maternal love: mother's response to infant's attachment behaviors

Biol Psychiatry. 2008 Feb 15;63(4):415-23. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.05.018. Epub 2007 Aug 7.


Background: Maternal love, which may be the core of maternal behavior, is essential for the mother-infant attachment relationship and is important for the infant's development and mental health. However, little has been known about these neural mechanisms in human mothers. We examined patterns of maternal brain activation in response to infant cues using video clips.

Methods: We performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measurements while 13 mothers viewed video clips, with no sound, of their own infant and other infants of approximately 16 months of age who demonstrated two different attachment behaviors (smiling at the infant's mother and crying for her).

Results: We found that a limited number of the mother's brain areas were specifically involved in recognition of the mother's own infant, namely orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), periaqueductal gray, anterior insula, and dorsal and ventrolateral parts of putamen. Additionally, we found the strong and specific mother's brain response for the mother's own infant's distress. The differential neural activation pattern was found in the dorsal region of OFC, caudate nucleus, right inferior frontal gyrus, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (PFC), anterior cingulate, posterior cingulate, thalamus, substantia nigra, posterior superior temporal sulcus, and PFC.

Conclusions: Our results showed the highly elaborate neural mechanism mediating maternal love and diverse and complex maternal behaviors for vigilant protectiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / psychology*
  • Love*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Maternal Behavior*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Object Attachment*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology