Neural processing of the own child’s facial emotions in mothers with a history of early life maltreatment
- 417 Downloads
Early life maltreatment (ELM) has long-lasting effects on social interaction. When interacting with their own child, women with ELM often report difficulties in parenting and show reduced maternal sensitivity. Sensitive maternal behavior requires the recognition of the child’s emotional state depicted in its facial emotions. Based on previous studies, it can be expected that ELM affects the neural processing of facial emotions by altering activation patterns in parts of the brain’s empathy and mentalizing networks. However, so far studies have focused on the processing of standardized, adult facial emotions. Therefore, the current study investigated the impact of ELM on the processing of one’s own child’s facial emotions using functional magnetic resonance imaging. To achieve this, 27 mothers with and 26 mothers without a history of ELM (all without current mental disorders and psychopharmacological treatment) took part in an emotional face recognition paradigm with happy, sad, and neutral faces of their own and an unknown primary school-aged child of the same age and sex. We found elevated activations in regions of the mentalizing (superior temporal sulcus, precuneus) and mirror neuron (inferior parietal lobule) networks as well as in the visual face processing network (cuneus, middle temporal gyrus) in mothers with ELM compared to the non-maltreated mothers in response to happy faces of their own child. This suggests a more effortful processing and cognitive empathic mentalizing of the own child’s facial happiness in mothers with ELM. Future research should address whether this might indicate a compensatory recruitment of mentalizing capacities to maintain maternal sensitivity.
KeywordsTrauma Physical and sexual abuse Maternal brain Facial emotion recognition Functional magnetic resonance imaging Mentalizing
We thank J. Rausch and E. Mielke for their help with data collection, and I. Rek and K. Hillmann for participant recruitment and organization. The study was supported by a grant from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research to SC.H. (BMBF; 01KR1207A; coordinator: R.B.) The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research had no influence on study design or manuscript.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.
- 1.Butchart A, Mikton C (2014) Global status report on violence prevention, 2014Google Scholar
- 7.Varese F, Smeets F, Drukker M, Lieverse R, Lataster T, Viechtbauer W, Read J, van Os J, Bentall RP (2012) Childhood adversities increase the risk of psychosis: a meta-analysis of patient-control, prospective- and cross-sectional cohort studies. Schizophr Bull 38:661–671. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbs050 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- 13.Kluczniok D, Boedeker K, Fuchs A, Hindi Attar C, Fydrich T, Fuehrer D, Dittrich K, Reck C, Winter S, Heinz A, Herpertz SC, Brunner R, Bermpohl F (2016) emotional availability in mother–child interaction: the effects of maternal depression in remission and additional history of childhood abuse. Depress Anxiety 33(7):648–657. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22462 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- 24.Kluczniok D, Hindi Attar C, Stein J, Poppinga S, Fydrich T, Jaite C, Kappel V, Brunner R, Herpertz SC, Boedeker K, Bermpohl F (2017) Dissociating maternal responses to sad and happy facial expressions of their own child: an fMRI study. PloS One 12(8):e0182476. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0182476 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- 25.Neukel C, Bertsch K, Fuchs Ph DA, Zietlow AL, Reck C, Moehler E, Brunner R, Bermpohl F, Herpertz SC (2018) The maternal brain in women with a history of early-life maltreatment: an imagination-based fMRI study of conflictual versus pleasant interactions with children. J Psychiatry Neurosci 43(4):170026. https://doi.org/10.1503/jpn.170026 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- 28.Sheehan DV, Lecrubier Y, Sheehan KH, Amorim P, Janavs J, Weiller E, Hergueta T, Baker R, Dunbar GC (1998) The Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview (M.I.N.I.): the development and validation of a structured diagnostic psychiatric interview for DSM-IV and ICD-10. J Clin Psychiatry 59(Suppl 20):22–33 (quiz 34–57) Google Scholar
- 29.Loranger AW, Sartorius N, Andreoli A, Berger P, Buchheim P, Channabasavanna S, Coid B, Dahl A, Diekstra RF, Ferguson B (1994) The international personality disorder examination: the World Health Organization/Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration international pilot study of personality disorders. Arch Gen Psychiatry 51(3):215–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 31.Eklund A, Nichols TE, Knutsson H (2016) Cluster failure: why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false-positive rates. Proc Natl Acad Sci 28:201602413Google Scholar
- 40.Morgan JK, Guo C, Moses-Kolko EL, Phillips ML, Stepp SD, Hipwell AE (2017) Postpartum depressive symptoms moderate the link between mothers’ neural response to positive faces in reward and social regions and observed caregiving. Soc Cognit Affect Neurosci 12(10):1605–1613. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsx087 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 45.Schechter DS, Moser DA, Wang Z, Marsh R, Hao X, Duan Y, Yu S, Gunter B, Murphy D, McCaw J, Kangarlu A, Willheim E, Myers MM, Hofer MA, Peterson BS (2012) An fMRI study of the brain responses of traumatized mothers to viewing their toddlers during separation and play. Soc Cognit Affect Neurosci 7(8):969–979. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsr069 CrossRefGoogle Scholar