Psychological and neurobiological mechanisms underlying the decline of maternal behavior

Ming Li

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The maternal behavior decline is important for the normal development of the young and the wellbeing of the mother. This paper reviews limited research on the factors and mechanisms involved in the rat maternal behavior decline and proposes a multi-level model. Framed in the parent-offspring conflict theory (an ultimate cause) and the approach-withdrawal model (a proximate cause), the maternal behavior decline is viewed as an active and effortful process, reflecting the dynamic interplay between the mother and her offspring. It is instigated by the waning of maternal motivation, coupled with the increased maternal aversion by the mother in responding to the changing sensory and motoric patterns of pup stimuli. In the decline phase, the neural circuit that mediates the inhibitory (“withdrawal”) responses starts to increase activity and gain control of behavioral outputs, while the excitatory (“approach”) maternal neural circuit is being inhibited or reorganized. Various hormones and certain monoamines may play a critical role in tipping the balance between the excitatory and inhibitory neural circuits to synchronize the mother-infant interaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-181
Number of pages18
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Approach-Withdrawal
  • Maternal behavior
  • Medial preoptic area
  • Melanin-Concentrating hormone
  • Mesolimbic dopamine
  • Oxytocin
  • Parent-Offspring conflict theory
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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