How do expectant fathers respond to infant cry? Examining brain and behavioral responses and the moderating role of testosterone

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2020 Jun 23;15(4):437-446. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsaa051.


Expectant parents' responses to infant cry may indicate future risk and resiliency in the parent-child relationship. Most studies of parental reactivity to infant cry have focused on mothers, and few studies have focused on expectant fathers, although fathers make important contributions to parenting. Additionally, although different responses to infant cry (behavioral, psychological and neural) are hypothesized to track together, few studies have analyzed them concurrently. The current investigation aimed to address these gaps by characterizing multimodal responses to infant cry within expectant fathers and testing whether prenatal testosterone moderates these responses. Expectant fathers responded to infant cry vs frequency-matched white noise with increased activation in bilateral areas of the temporal lobe involved in processing speech sounds and social and emotional stimuli. Handgrip force, which has been used to measure parents' reactivity to cry sounds in previous studies, did not differentiate cry from white noise within this sample. Expectant fathers with higher prenatal testosterone showed greater activation in the supramarginal gyrus, left occipital lobe and precuneus cortex to cry sounds. Expectant fathers appear to interpret and process infant cry as a meaningful speech sound and social cue, and testosterone may play a role in expectant fathers' response to infant cry.

Keywords: affective; behavioral; cognitive; fathers; infant cry; physiological; response.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Crying*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Fathers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Hand Strength
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Paternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Testosterone / physiology*


  • Testosterone