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date: 17 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Infant vocalizations are uniquely salient sounds in our auditory environment. They attract attention and compel the listener to respond quickly and carefully. These sounds prompt a range of effortful and complex behaviours in parents, with the goal of providing life-sustaining care for their infant. The neurobiological underpinnings of this motivational state are of much interest to auditory and parenting researchers alike. Neuroimaging has afforded the opportunity to examine the biological substrates of these complex states. Functional MRI (fMRI) studies have identified a network of cortical and subcortical regions that are reactive to infant cries. This ‘parental brain’ is a combination of regions of the ‘social brain’ (temporal and frontal lobe areas) and subcortical ‘survival’ regions. Temporally sensitive neuroimaging techniques (magnetoencephalography, MEG and local field potentials, LFPs) are beginning to illuminate the dynamic nature of activity among these regions, with findings demonstrating early (50–200 ms) identification of infant cries in the periaqueductal grey and orbitofrontal cortex that may support rapid orientating responses. Emerging work investigating parental experience-dependent brain plasticity suggests associations between various aspects of parenting behaviour and adaptations in fronto-amygdala circuitry. Future work combining levels of analyses in longitudinal designs may lead to a better understanding of caregiving behaviour in health and disease.

Keywords: infant cry, parenting, caregiving instinct, survival, fMRI, MEG, orbitofrontal cortex, periaqueductal grey, brain plasticity

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