Brain-to-brain synchrony as a novel biomarker of dyadic intervention response in prenatally anxious/depressed patients and their infants
Parent-child brain-to-brain synchrony is the coordinated interplay of brain activity between parent and child, which is believed to be evolutionarily important for strengthening bond formation. Thanks to recent advances, neuroscientists can now measure this brain-to-brain synchrony using hyperscanning (i.e., concurrent scanning of parent and child as they interact). High parent-child brain-to-brain synchrony can be an indicator of sensitive parenting, which is the parent’s ability to accurately notice and interpret their baby’s signals, and react to them promptly and appropriately. In contrast, low parent-child brain-to-brain synchrony has been found to predict parenting stress. An important question is whether higher parent-child brain-to-brain synchrony could also mean favorable response to an intervention that promotes parental sensitivity.
Anxiety and depression are extremely common among pregnant people and new parents (~23-37%). These problems not only affect parents’ own mental health, but also that of their developing child all the way through adolescence; transmitted, partly, through less sensitive parenting. Current treatments for perinatal anxiety/depression are typically mother-focused (such as medication or psychotherapy), which are often not enough to prevent transmission of risk to the child, possibly because symptom reductions might not directly translate to improved maternal sensitivity. Thus, we argue that a treatment extension which promotes maternal sensitivity in perinatally anxious/depressed women may hold potential for safely and effectively extending therapeutic benefits to their child, but little is known about the neural processes underlying response that would need to be targeted.
Here, we propose a pilot intervention study to evaluate the feasibility, acceptability, and clinical utility of a baby carrier intervention to promote maternal sensitivity in prenatally anxious/depressed women and their infants. Further, we will evaluate if mother-infant brain-to-brain synchrony can serve as a novel biomarker of intervention response (using functional near-infrared-spectroscopy hyperscanning). We expect that the intervention will increase maternal sensitivity and mother-infant brain-to-brain synchrony.
Eszter Szekely , L’Hôpital général juif Sir Mortimer B. Davis/Sir Mortimer B. Davis Jewish General Hospital