Paternal and Maternal Care and Offspring Social Cognition

Interaction between parents and offspring is the cornerstone of emotional development. The attachment between caregivers and infants is an emotional bond that impacts behavior from the cradle to the grave. Alexander G. Ophir, Psychology, explores the potential for early-life social experiences to enhance or impede the development of social behavior and the brain.

Ophir’s group manipulates the life history of the offspring in the postnatal environment by varying the opportunity for, and degree of, social interaction with caregivers. The researchers then observe the consequences such manipulations have on cognitive and social behavior and the resulting neural phenotype of the “social brain.”

Researchers know that impoverished conditions in the rearing environment may lead to maladaptive behavior and disability by disrupting normal development, affecting neural systems, such as oxytocin and vasopressin. These are important for modulating social behavior and contribute to stable mental health. A deeper understanding of how the social rearing environment impacts the expression of these hormone systems and the behavior in later stages of life can lead to prevention strategies that identify early and controllable influences of mental health dysfunction. NIH Grant Number: HD079573

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$1.3 Million spanning 4 years