Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology

First Advisor

Pilyoung Kim

Second Advisor

Sarah Watamura

Third Advisor

Elysia Davis

Fourth Advisor

Jonathan Velotta


fMRI, HPA axis, Maternal nonintrusiveness


Previous research indicated that maternal cortisol function and maternal brain response to infant stimuli are separately related to differences in parenting behavior. Evidence from animal models have demonstrated that chronically high cortisol concentration alters brain structure and function, suggesting that studying these two mechanisms together may further improve understanding of parental behavior in human mothers. First time mothers of infants aged 1-7 months old (M age = 3 months) were recruited to participate. Mother’s cortisol concentration was measured during a naturalistic interaction with their infant and their behavior was coded for maternal sensitivity and nonintrusiveness. In a separate session using fMRI, mothers listened to their own infant and a control infant crying. We demonstrated an association between mother’s average cortisol concentration and nonintrusive maternal behavior, but not maternal sensitivity, such that higher cortisol concentration was associated with more intrusive behavior. In the brain, we found in the right precentral gyrus, the left culmen extending into the left inferior temporal gyrus and fusiform, two clusters in the superior temporal gyrus, and in the medial frontal gyrus, greater cortisol concentration was associated with decreased activation to infant cry. We also found that activation in these regions to cry sounds was associated with maternal nonintrusiveness such that greater activation in these regions was associated with less intrusive behavior.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Andrew Erhart


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

94 pgs


Developmental psychology, Neurosciences, Endocrinology