Prefrontal activation associated with social attachment: Facial-emotion recognition in mothers and infants

Yasuyo Minagawa-Kawai, Sunao Matsuoka, Ippeita Dan, Nozomi Naoi, Katsuki Nakamura, Shozo Kojima

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Citations (Scopus)


Attachment between mothers and infants is the most primitive and primary form of human social relationship. Many reports have suggested that the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) plays a significant role in this attachment; however, only a select few provide experimental neurophysiological evidence. In the present study, to determine the neural substrates underlying the social and emotional attachment between mothers and infants, we measured their prefrontal activation by using near-infrared spectroscopy. We used movie stimuli that could robustly induce a positive affect, and the results for viewing own versus unfamiliar infants showed that own-infant viewing elicited increased activations around the anterior part of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in the mothers. Their response magnitude in that area was also correlated with the behavioral rating of the pleasant mood of infants. Furthermore, our study revealed that the infants' prefrontal activation around the anterior OFC is specific to viewing their mothers' smile. These results suggest the OFC's role in regulating and encoding the affect in attachment system and also show that infants share similar neuronal functions with mothers, associated with their bonds at 1 year of age. We further discussed infants' prefrontal activations and their implications for the development of the social brain network.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-292
Number of pages9
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Feb


  • Attachment
  • Emotion
  • Infant
  • Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS)
  • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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