CARE Studies


General Considerations

Most recently, my research on the social neuroscience of human attachment at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, is based on three interdisciplinary and multi-method studies: CARE, D-CARE, and M-CARE. The idea behind these studies is to combine several aspects of attachment research with state-of-the-art social neuroscience techniques with the aim of advancing attachment theory within the 21st century.

The CARE studies are a large collaborative effort involving researchers from the University of Vienna, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, University of Leipzig, and University of Virginia. 

The CARE studies comprise the following main elements:

  • fNIRS hyperscanning in parent-child dyads (child age 5 years) using a collaborative versus independent puzzle-solving task (in addition to a free conversation or pre-school sheet completion task) to derive inter-brain coherence and bio-behavioral synchrony within the parent-child dyad. 
  • Video recordings during fNIRS and ratings of interaction according to several attachment-theory derived coding schemes.
  • Self-report questionnaires and narrative measures (adult attachment interview; story stems) of attachment and caregiving in parents and children.
  • (f)MRI scanning in parents to assess brain anatomy and function in relation with inter-individual differences in attachment and caregiving.
  • Associations between the above elements.


CARE Study

For the CARE study conducted in 2017-2018, N= 42 mother-child dyads participated in the fNIRS hyperscanning part including video-recordings of their interaction during puzzle-solving and a free conversation. Attachment and caregiving was assessed via video ratings and self-report questionnaires. Mother-child interaction quality was further rated via video ratings. 

D-CARE Study

Starting from April 2018, the D-CARE study aimed at recruiting a total of N= 60 father-child dyads. It is meant to extend the CARE study by adding (i) narrative attachment measures (adult attachment interview; story stem procedure) in both parents and children, and (ii) (f)MRI scanning in parents, as well as to for the first time look at attachment and caregiving using a multi-method social neuroscience approach in fathers. Data acquisition was completed in late 2019.

M-CARE Study

As an additional follow-up to CARE and D-CARE, the M-CARE study that just started in February 2019 will comprise the same elements as the D-CARE study in an anticipated N= 60 mother-child dyads. Not only will this additional study boost participant numbers – which is a crucial limitation factor in past attachment research -, but it will also make the D- and M-CARE data more directly comparable (which is not entirely possible with the CARE data). Furthermore, because a large number of participants of the M-CARE study have already been seen four years ago, a longitudinal relation to mother-child interaction assessed during infancy will be possible. Such approach also represents an important step towards better attachment data, as longitudinal studies are so far very sparse.



See also my recent blog about this paper.

Within the CARE study, we examined the effects of interaction quality on neural synchrony during a problem-solving task in 42 dyads of mothers and their preschool children (age 5) by using dual-functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

We found increased neural synchrony in bilateral prefrontal cortex and temporo-parietal areas during cooperative as compared to individual problem solving. Higher neural synchrony during cooperation correlated with higher behavioral reciprocity and neural synchrony predicted the dyad’s problem-solving success beyond reciprocal behavior between mothers and children. State-like factors, such as maternal stress and child agency during the task, played a bigger role for neural synchronization than trait-like factors, such as child temperament.

Our results emphasize neural synchrony as a biomarker for mother-child interaction quality. These findings further highlight the role of state-like factors in interpersonal synchronization processes linked to successful coordination with others and in the long-term might improve the understanding of others.

Nguyen, T., Kayhan, E., Schleihauf, H., Matthes, D., Vrtička, P., Hoehl, S. (2020; available online December 20th 2019). The effects of interaction quality on neural synchrony during mother-child problem solvingCortex, Volume 124, Pages 235-249, OPEN ACCESS.

More information about the CARE, D-CARE, and M-CARE studies – particularly results and their discussion – will be posted here once it becomes available.