The adaptive human parental brain: implications for children's social development

Trends Neurosci. 2015 Jun;38(6):387-99. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2015.04.004. Epub 2015 May 5.


Although interest in the neurobiology of parent-infant bonding is a century old, neuroimaging of the human parental brain is recent. After summarizing current comparative research into the neurobiology of parenting, here I chart a global 'parental caregiving' network that integrates conserved structures supporting mammalian caregiving with later-evolving networks and implicates parenting in the evolution of higher order social functions aimed at maximizing infant survival. The response of the parental brain to bonding-related behavior and hormones, particularly oxytocin, and increased postpartum brain plasticity demonstrate adaptation to infant stimuli, childrearing experiences, and cultural contexts. Mechanisms of biobehavioral synchrony by which the parental brain shapes, and is shaped by, infant physiology and behavior emphasize the brain basis of caregiving for the cross-generation transmission of human sociality.

Keywords: caregiving; fathering; mothering; oxytocin; parental brain; synchrony.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Family Relations*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Parents*
  • Social Behavior*