Neural processing of infant and adult face emotion and maternal exposure to childhood maltreatment

Aviva K. Olsavsky, Joel Stoddard, Andrew Erhart, Rebekah Tribble, Pilyoung Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Face processing in mothers is linked to mother-infant social communication, which is critical for parenting and in turn for child development. Neuroimaging studies of child maltreatment-exposed (CME) mothers are sparse compared to studies of mothers with postpartum depression, which have suggested blunted amygdala reactivity to infant stimuli. We expected to see a similar pattern in CME mothers. Based on broader studies in trauma-exposed populations, we anticipated increased amygdala reactivity to negative adult face stimuli in a comparison task in CME mothers given heightened evaluation of potential threat. We examined Neuroimaging studies of mothers with childhood maltreatment exposure (CME) (18-37 years old), who performed infant (N = 45) and/or adult (N = 46) face processing tasks. CME mothers exhibited blunted bilateral amygdala reactivity to infant faces. There was no between-group difference in amygdala reactivity to adult faces. In infant and adult face processing tasks regardless of CME, superior temporal gyrus activation was increased for negative-valence stimuli. Our preliminary findings suggest that childhood maltreatment alters maternal processing of infant social cues, a critical skill impacting infant socioemotional development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)997-1008
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number9
StatePublished - 4 Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press.


  • amygdala
  • childhood maltreatment
  • face
  • infant
  • mother


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