Infant social interactions and brain development: A systematic review

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021 Nov:130:448-469. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.09.001. Epub 2021 Sep 10.


From birth, interactions with others are an integral part of a person's daily life. In infancy, social exchanges are thought to be critical for optimal brain development. This systematic review explores this association by drawing together infant studies that relate adult-infant behaviours - coded from their social interactions - to children's brain measures collected during a neuroimaging session in infancy, childhood, adolescence or adulthood. In total, we identified 55 studies that explored associations between infants' social interactions and neural measures. These studies show that several aspects of caregiver-infant behaviours are associated with, or predict, a variety of neural responses in infants, children and adolescents. The presence of both concurrent and long-term associations - some of which are first observed just a few months postnatally and extend into adulthood - open an important research avenue and motivate further longitudinal studies.

Keywords: Brain development; Brain network connectivity; Brain-Behaviour associations; Caregiver-infant interactions; Electroencephalography (EEG); Event-related potential (ERP); Frontal EEG asymmetry; Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); Infancy; Quality of interaction; Social interactions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Neuroimaging
  • Social Interaction*