The ability to provide appropriate responses to infant distress is vital to paternal care, but may be affected by fathers’ experiences of childhood maltreatment. Detrimental effects of childhood maltreatment have been found in the adult brain's white matter fibers, accompanied with impaired emotional and cognitive functioning. In the current study (N = 121), we examined new and expectant fathers’ childhood maltreatment experiences (i.e. emotional and physical abuse and neglect), current behavioral responses (i.e. handgrip force) to infant cry sounds, and white matter integrity using diffusion tensor imaging. First, more exposure to childhood maltreatment was associated with more use of excessive handgrip force in response to infant crying by fathers. Second, the association between experienced childhood maltreatment and white matter integrity was not significant in whole-brain analyses. Lastly, we found that the association between maltreatment exposure and excessive handgrip force during infant crying was absent in fathers with high tract integrity in the bilateral uncinate fasciculus. These findings possibly point to insufficient behavioral inhibition or emotional dysregulation in fathers who experienced childhood maltreatment, but buffering for this effect in those with larger integrity in brain fibers connecting the amygdala and prefrontal cortex.

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Developmental Psychobiology
Department of Psychology

Alyousefi-van Dijk, K. (Kim), van der Knaap, N. (Noa), Buisman, R.S.M. (Renate S.M.), Horstman, L.I. (Lisa I.), Lotz, A.M. (Anna M.), Riem, M.M.E, … Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J. (2020). White matter integrity moderates the relation between experienced childhood maltreatment and fathers’ behavioral response to infant crying. In Developmental Psychobiology. doi:10.1002/dev.22058