Infant protection is an important but largely neglected aspect of parental care. Available theory and research suggest that endocrine levels and neural responses might be biological correlates of protective behavior. However, no research to date examined associations between these neurobiological and behavioral aspects. This study, preregistered on, explored the psychobiology of paternal protection in 77 new fathers by combining neural responses to infant-threatening situations, self-reported protective behavior, behavioral observations in a newly developed experimental set-up (Auditory Startling Task), and measurements of testosterone and vasopressin. fMRI analyses validated the role of several brain networks in the processing of infant-threatening situations and indicated replicable findings with the infant-threat paradigm. We found little overlap between observed and reported protective behavior. Robust associations between endocrine levels, neural responses, and paternal protective behavior were absent.

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Developmental Psychobiology
Department of Psychology