Poster Session E, Monday, March 25, 2:30 – 4:30 pm, Pacific Concourse
Does maternal odor influence social perception in the infant brain?
Sarah Jessen1; 1University of Luebeck
The most important caregiver for a young human infant is most often the mother, and a variety of signals and mechanisms ensure a close bonding between mother and infant. One potentially essential yet understudied signal is maternal odor as a potent chemosensory signal. While maternal odor is known to play an important role in mother-infant-interaction in other altricial species such as rodents, we only know very little about its role in early human development. The present study therefore investigated the potential impact of maternal odor on infant brain responses in an emotion perception task. Infants were randomly assigned to one of three groups (each n=25); a "maternal odor" group exposed to maternal odor, a "stranger odor" group exposed to the odor of an unfamiliar mother of a same-aged infant (control 1), and a "no-odor" group (control 2). We recorded the electroencephalographic (EEG) signal while the infants saw happy and fearful faces. We found that infants exposed to their mother’s odor did not show the age-typical fear response (indicated via an enhanced Nc response) that was found in both control groups combined (t(73) = - 2.01, p=.048). Furthermore, resting-state data from the same infants point to an enhanced cortical tracking response (intersubject synchrony) in the presence of maternal odor (p_perm = .011). In sum, maternal odor appears to reduce infants’ attention to threatening signals, which provides evidence for the important role of indirect maternal signals for emotion regulation in infancy.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Development & aging