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Systematic Review

The Paternal Brain in Action: A Review of Human Fathers’ fMRI Brain Responses to Child-Related Stimuli

Child Psychiatry and Neurology Unit, IRCCS Mondino Foundation, 27100 Pavia, Italy
Department of Psychology and Speech-Language Pathology, University of Turku, 20500 Turku, Finland
Neonatal Intensive Care Department, University Hospital of Ghent, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, Università di Pavia, 27100 Pavia, Italy
Neuroimaging Lab, Scientific Institute IRCCS E. Medea, 23842 Bosisio Parini, Italy
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Filippo Brighina
Brain Sci. 2021, 11(6), 816;
Received: 27 April 2021 / Revised: 11 June 2021 / Accepted: 17 June 2021 / Published: 20 June 2021
As fathers are increasingly involved in childcare, understanding the neurological underpinnings of fathering has become a key research issue in developmental psychobiology research. This systematic review specifically focused on (1) highlighting methodological issues of paternal brain research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and (2) summarizing findings related to paternal brain responses to auditory and visual infant stimuli. Sixteen papers were included from 157 retrieved records. Sample characteristics (e.g., fathers’ and infant’s age, number of kids, and time spent caregiving), neuroimaging information (e.g., technique, task, stimuli, and processing), and main findings were synthesized by two independent authors. Most of the reviewed works used different stimuli and tasks to test fathers’ responses to child visual and/or auditory stimuli. Pre-processing and first-level analyses were performed with standard pipelines. Greater heterogeneity emerged in second-level analyses. Three main cortical networks (mentalization, embodied simulation, and emotion regulation) and a subcortical network emerged linked with fathers’ responses to infants’ stimuli, but additional areas (e.g., frontal gyrus, posterior cingulate cortex) were also responsive to infants’ visual or auditory stimuli. This review suggests that a distributed and complex brain network may be involved in facilitating fathers’ sensitivity and responses to infant-related stimuli. Nonetheless, specific methodological caveats, the exploratory nature of large parts of the literature to date, and the presence of heterogeneous tasks and measures also demonstrate that systematic improvements in study designs are needed to further advance the field. View Full-Text
Keywords: brain; father; fMRI; neuroimaging; parenting brain; father; fMRI; neuroimaging; parenting
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MDPI and ACS Style

Provenzi, L.; Lindstedt, J.; De Coen, K.; Gasparini, L.; Peruzzo, D.; Grumi, S.; Arrigoni, F.; Ahlqvist-Björkroth, S. The Paternal Brain in Action: A Review of Human Fathers’ fMRI Brain Responses to Child-Related Stimuli. Brain Sci. 2021, 11, 816.

AMA Style

Provenzi L, Lindstedt J, De Coen K, Gasparini L, Peruzzo D, Grumi S, Arrigoni F, Ahlqvist-Björkroth S. The Paternal Brain in Action: A Review of Human Fathers’ fMRI Brain Responses to Child-Related Stimuli. Brain Sciences. 2021; 11(6):816.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Provenzi, Livio, Johanna Lindstedt, Kris De Coen, Linda Gasparini, Denis Peruzzo, Serena Grumi, Filippo Arrigoni, and Sari Ahlqvist-Björkroth. 2021. "The Paternal Brain in Action: A Review of Human Fathers’ fMRI Brain Responses to Child-Related Stimuli" Brain Sciences 11, no. 6: 816.

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