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The Power of Smiling: The Adult Brain Networks Underlying Learned Infant Emotionality

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  • Eloise A. Stark, University of Oxford
  • ,
  • Joana Cabral
  • Madelon M.E. Riem, Tilburg University
  • ,
  • Marinus H. Van IJzendoorn, University of Cambridge, Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • ,
  • Alan Stein, University of Oxford, University of the Witwatersrand
  • ,
  • Morten L. Kringelbach

The perception of infant emotionality, one aspect of temperament, starts to form in infancy, yet the underlying mechanisms of how infant emotionality affects adult neural dynamics remain unclear. We used a social reward task with probabilistic visual and auditory feedback (infant laughter or crying) to train 47 nulliparous women to perceive the emotional style of six different infants. Using functional neuroimaging, we subsequently measured brain activity while participants were tested on the learned emotionality of the six infants. We characterized the elicited patterns of dynamic functional brain connectivity using Leading Eigenvector Dynamics Analysis and found significant activity in a brain network linking the orbitofrontal cortex with the amygdala and hippocampus, where the probability of occurrence significantly correlated with the valence of the learned infant emotional disposition. In other words, seeing infants with neutral face expressions after having interacted and learned their various degrees of positive and negative emotional dispositions proportionally increased the activity in a brain network previously shown to be involved in pleasure, emotion, and memory. These findings provide novel neuroimaging insights into how the perception of happy versus sad infant emotionality shapes adult brain networks.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991)
Pages (from-to)2019-2029
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

    Research areas

  • emotion, infant emotionality, infant temperament, network dynamics, parent–infant interaction

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