Neural responses to maternal criticism in healthy youth

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2015 Jul;10(7):902-12. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsu133. Epub 2014 Oct 22.


Parental criticism can have positive and negative effects on children's and adolescents' behavior; yet, it is unclear how youth react to, understand and process parental criticism. We proposed that youth would engage three sets of neural processes in response to parental criticism including the following: (i) activating emotional reactions, (ii) regulating those reactions and (iii) social cognitive processing (e.g. understanding the parent's mental state). To examine neural processes associated with both emotional and social processing of parental criticism in personally relevant and ecologically valid social contexts, typically developing youth were scanned while they listened to their mother providing critical, praising and neutral statements. In response to maternal criticism, youth showed increased brain activity in affective networks (e.g. subcortical-limbic regions including lentiform nucleus and posterior insula), but decreased activity in cognitive control networks (e.g. dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and caudal anterior cingulate cortex) and social cognitive networks (e.g. temporoparietal junction and posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus). These results suggest that youth may respond to maternal criticism with increased emotional reactivity but decreased cognitive control and social cognitive processing. A better understanding of children's responses to parental criticism may provide insights into the ways that parental feedback can be modified to be more helpful to behavior and development in youth.

Keywords: brain; cognitive control; emotion; parental criticism; social cognitive processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / psychology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mothers*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Self Report
  • Social Perception