The functional neuroanatomy of the evolving parent-infant relationship

C E Parsons, K S Young, L Murray, A Stein, M L Kringelbach

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Infant survival and the development of secure and cooperative relationships are central to the future of the species. In humans, this relies heavily on the evolving early parent-infant social and affective relationship. While much is known about the behavioural and psychological components of this relationship, relatively little is known about the underlying functional neuroanatomy. Affective and social neuroscience has helped to describe the main adult brain networks involved, but has so far engaged very little with developmental findings. In this review, we seek to highlight future avenues for research by providing a coherent framework for describing the parent-infant relationship over the first 18 months. We provide an outline of the evolving nature of the relationship, starting with basic orienting and recognition processes, and culminating in the infant's attainment of higher socio-emotional and cognitive capacities. Key social and affective interactions, such as communication, cooperative play and the establishment of specific attachments propel the development of the parent-infant relationship. We summarise our current knowledge of the developing infant brain in terms of structure and function, and how these relate to the emergent abilities necessary for the formation of a secure and cooperative relationship with parents or other caregivers. Important roles have been found for brain regions including the orbitofrontal, cingulate, and insular cortices in parent-infant interactions, but it has become clear that much more information is needed about the developmental time course and connectivity of these regions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalProgress in Neurobiology
Pages (from-to)220-41
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


  • Adult
  • Brain
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Psychological
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents


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