How Do Expectant Fathers Respond to Infant Cry?

Examining Brain and Behavioral Responses and the Moderating Role of Testosterone

Hannah Khoddam; Diane Goldenberg; Sarah A. Stoycos; Katelyn Taline Horton; Narcis Marshall; Sofia I. Cárdenas; Jonas Kaplan; Darby Saxbe


Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2020;15(4):437-446. 

In This Article


First, all data were explored for outliers and normality of distribution. All variables met the criteria for normality. One subject was dropped due to neural activation in the contrast of interest (cry > white noise) being three standard deviations above the mean. Means and standard deviations of all study variables are presented in Table 1, and bivariate correlations of main study variables are shown in Table 2.

Hypothesis 1. As depicted in Table 3 and Figure 1, greater activation to infant cry than frequency-matched white noise emerged primarily in areas of the bilateral temporal lobes consisting of the auditory cortices. These areas included bilateral planum temporale, left insular cortex, R Heschl's gyrus, R STG (posterior and anterior), R planum polare and left supramarginal gyrus, as well as the right IFG. No differences were found in amygdala activation in response to infant cry vs white noise. No activation differences were found in response to white noise > infant cry.

Figure 1.

Main effects for the contrast of interest infant cry > frequency-matched white noise. Revealed activation in the L supramarginal gyrus, L and R planum porale, L Insula, L temporal pole, R superior temporal gyrus, anterior and posterior, R Heschl's gyrus, R planum porale, and R IFG. Analyses cluster corrected at z = 2.3. (N = 34).

Hypothesis 2. A paired samples t-test was used to test for differences in handgrip modulation during infant cry and white noise across fathers. This hypothesis was not supported. No significant differences were found in the ratio of half-strength/full-strength during infant cry vs white noise across fathers (t(40) = −1.21, P = 2.32). Given the lack of a main effect finding of handgrip modulation during infant cry compared to white noise, no further analyses were done testing the relationship between handgrip strength during infant cry and testosterone or psychological and neural responses to infant cry.

Hypothesis 3. This hypothesis was partially supported. Neural activation in whole-brain analyses was not associated with fathers' self-reported negative emotions or their negative trait ratings of infant cry when using whole-brain analyses. Negative interpretations of infant cry (trait rating task) predicted right amygdala percent signal change to infant cry (B = 0.36, P = 0.04; Table 4), but this effect was not significant following correction for multiple comparisons. Handgrip force was not tested given the null findings in hypothesis two.

Hypothesis 4. As hypothesized, expectant fathers with higher prenatal testosterone showed greater activation to infant cry sounds relative to white noise sounds in the right supramarginal gyrus, the left occipital cortex and the precuneus cortex (Table 5, Figure 2). No activation was found to be negatively associated with prenatal testosterone level. Prenatal testosterone level did not predict fathers' negative emotion ratings in response to infant cry (B = 0.12, P = 0.52) nor negative ratings of the infant during infant cry (B = 0.22, P = 0.16).

Figure 2.

Whole-brain associations with neural activation during infant cry > white noise and prenatal testosterone level as regressor, peak cluster results. Greater activation in the right supramarginal gyrus, precuneus and L occipital cortex was found during infant cry compared to frequency-matched white noise in expectant fathers with higher prenatal testosterone level. Corresponding scatterplots show signal change in these areas associated with testosterone level. All analyses cluster-corrected at z = 2. 3, P < .05. R = right; L = left (N = 32).