Associations between Family Functioning and Maternal Behavior on Default Mode Network Connectivity in School-Age Children

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 May 16;19(10):6055. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19106055.


Background: Most early children's experiences will occur in a family context; therefore, the quality of this environment is critical for development outcomes. Not many studies have assessed the correlations between brain functional connectivity (FC) in important areas such as the default mode network (DMN) and the quality of parent-child relationships in school-age children and early adolescence. The quality of family relationships and maternal behavior have been suggested to modulate DMN FC once they act as external regulators of children's affect and behavior. Objective: We aimed to test the associations between the quality of family environment/maternal behavior and FC within the DMN of school-age children. Method: Resting-state, functional magnetic resonance imaging data, were collected from 615 children (6-12 age range) enrolled in the Brazilian High-Risk Cohort (HRC) study. We assessed DMN intra-connectivity between the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), and inferior parietal lobule (IPL-bilateral) regions. The family functioning was assessed by levels of family cohesiveness and conflict and by maternal behavior styles such as maternal responsiveness, maternal stimulus to the child's autonomy, and maternal overprotection. The family environment was assessed with the Family Environment Scale (FES), and maternal behavior was assessed by the mother's self-report. Results: We found that the quality of the family environment was correlated with intra-DMN FC. The more conflicting the family environment was, the greater the FC between the mPFC-left IPL (lIPL), while a more cohesive family functioning was negatively correlated with FC between the PCC-lIPL. On the other hand, when moderated by a positive maternal behavior, cohesive family functioning was associated with increased FC in both regions of the DMN (mPFC-lIPL and PCC-lIPL). Conclusions: Our results highlight that the quality of the family environment might be associated with differences in the intrinsic DMN FC.

Keywords: adolescence; default-mode network; family environment; parental practices childhood; resting State.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Default Mode Network*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Maternal Behavior

Grants and funding

The opinions: hypotheses, conclusions, and recommendations of this study are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the funding agencies. The authors are grateful to FAPESP (grants 2018/04654-9, 2018/21934-5 and 2021/05332-8 to J.R.S. and 2016/19376-9 to A.P.A.B.), CAPES and UFABC (K.R. scholarship) and the National Institute of Developmental Psychiatry for Children and Adolescents, a science and technology institute funded by FAPESP (grant 2014/50917-0) and CNPq (grant 465550/2014-2).