Vicarious praise and pain: parental neural responses to social feedback about their adolescent child

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Social cognitive and affective neuroscience


Social feedback, such as praise or critique, profoundly impacts our mood and social interactions. It is unknown, however, how parents experience praise and critique about their child and whether their mood and neural responses to such 'vicarious' social feedback are modulated by parents' perceptions of their child. Parents (n = 60) received positive, intermediate and negative feedback words (i.e. personality characteristics) about their adolescent child during a magnetic resonance imaging scan. After each word, parents indicated their mood. After positive feedback their mood improved and activity in ventromedial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus increased. Negative feedback worsened parents' mood, especially when perceived as inapplicable to their child, and increased activity in anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and precuneus. Parents who generally viewed their child more positively showed amplified mood responses to both positive and negative feedback and increased activity in dorsal striatum, inferior frontal gyrus and insula in response to negative feedback. These findings suggest that vicarious feedback has similar effects and engages similar brain regions as observed during feedback about the self and illustrates this is dependent on parents' beliefs of their child's qualities and flaws. Potential implications for parent-child dynamics and children's own self-views are discussed.

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