Towards understanding neurocognitive mechanisms of parenting: Maternal behaviors and structural brain network organization in late childhood

Sally Richmond, Richard Beare, Katherine A. Johnson, Nicholas B. Allen, Marc L. Seal, Sarah Whittle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


A substantial body of knowledge suggests that exposure to adverse family environments – including violence and neglect – influences many aspects of brain development. Relatively less attention has been directed toward the influence of “normative” differences in parenting behaviors. Given the rapid brain reorganization during late childhood, parenting behaviors are particularly likely to impact the structure of the brain during this time. This study investigated associations between maternal parenting behaviors and the organization of structural brain networks in late childhood, as measured by structural covariance. One hundred and forty-five typically developing 8-year-olds and their mothers completed questionnaire measures and two observed interaction tasks; magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were obtained from the children. Measures of maternal negative, positive, and communicative behavior were derived from the interaction tasks. Structural covariance networks based on partial correlations between cortical thickness estimates were constructed and estimates of modularity were obtained using graph theoretical analysis. High levels of negative maternal behavior were associated with low modularity. Minimal support was found for an association between positive maternal behaviors and modularity and between maternal communicative behaviors and modularity. Our findings suggest that variation in negative maternal behavior is associated with the structural organization of brain networks in children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1845-1862
Number of pages18
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2021


  • cortical thickness
  • environment
  • graph theory
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • modularity
  • neurodevelopmental outcomes

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