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Mothers' unresolved trauma blunts amygdala response to infant distress

Kim, S; Fonagy, P; Allen, J; Strathearn, L; (2014) Mothers' unresolved trauma blunts amygdala response to infant distress. Social Neuroscience , 9 (4) 352 - 363. 10.1080/17470919.2014.896287. Green open access

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Abstract

While the neurobiology of post-traumatic stress disorder has been extensively researched, much less attention has been paid to the neural mechanisms underlying more covert but pervasive types of trauma (e.g., those involving disrupted relationships and insecure attachment). Here, we report on a neurobiological study documenting that mothers' attachment-related trauma, when unresolved, undermines her optimal brain response to her infant's distress. We examined the amygdala blood oxygenation level-dependent response in 42 first-time mothers as they underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning, viewing happy- and sad-face images of their own infant, along with those of a matched unknown infant. Whereas mothers with no trauma demonstrated greater amygdala responses to the sad faces of their own infant as compared to their happy faces, mothers who were classified as having unresolved trauma in the Adult Attachment Interview (Dynamic Maturational Model) displayed blunted amygdala responses when cued by their own infants' sadness as compared to happiness. Unknown infant faces did not elicit differential amygdala responses between the mother groups. The blunting of the amygdala response in traumatized mothers is discussed as a neural indication of mothers' possible disengagement from infant distress, which may be part of a process linking maternal unresolved trauma and disrupted maternal caregiving.

Type: Article
Title: Mothers' unresolved trauma blunts amygdala response to infant distress
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2014.896287
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2014.896287
Language: English
Additional information: This is the accepted version of the following article: Kim, S; Fonagy, P; Allen, J; Strathearn, L; (2014) Mothers' unresolved trauma blunts amygdala response to infant distress. Social Neuroscience , 9 (4), 352-363 which has been published in final form at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2014.896287
Keywords: Unresolved trauma, Amygdala, attachment, mother–infant relationship
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Clinical, Edu and Hlth Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1425065
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