Infant signals, including infant sounds and facial expressions, play a critical role in eliciting parental proximity and care. Processing of infant signals in the adulthood brain is likely to recruit emotional empathy neural circuits, including the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Here, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to test the role of right IFG (rIFG) in behavioral responses to infant signals. Specifically, a group of nulliparous women were asked to perform a handgrip dynamometer task and an Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT) after receiving TMS over the right IFG or over a control site (vertex). Suppressing activity in the rIFG affected the modulation of handgrip force in response to infant crying. Moreover, the AAT showed that participants tend to avoid the sad infant face after Vertex stimulation, and this bias was counteracted by rIFG stimulation. Our results suggest a causal role of rIFG in sensitive responding towards sad infants and point to the rIFG as a critical node in the neural network underlying the innate releasing mechanism for feelings of love, affection and caring of sad infants.
- Infant cry
- infant faces
- repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS)
- right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG)