Physical presence of spouse enhances brain-to-brain synchrony in co-parenting couples

Co-parenting spouses who live together remain in close physical proximity to each other and regularly engage in reciprocal social interactions in joint endeavors to coordinate their caregiving. Although bi-parental rearing is a common occurrence in humans, the influence of the physical presence of a co-parenting spouse on parental brain responses remains largely unknown.

Synchrony is conceptualized as the matching of behavioral and physiological signals between two individuals. In this study, we examined how the presence of a co-parenting spouse influences brain-to-brain synchrony when attending to salient infant and adult vocalizations. We hypothesized that brain-to-brain synchrony would be greater in the presence of a spousal partner.

Functional Near-infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) was used on 24 mother-father dyads (N = 48) to measure prefrontal cortical (PFC) activities while they listened to infant and adult vocalizations in two conditions, together (in the same room at the same time) and separately (in different rooms at different times). Couples showed greater synchrony in the together condition; when comparing fNIRS data between true couples and randomly matched controls, this synchronous effect was only seen in true couples, indicating a unique effect of spousal co-regulation toward salient stimuli.

Our results indicate that the physical presence of the spouse might establish synchrony in attentional regulation mechanisms toward socially relevant stimuli. This finding holds implications for the role of the co-parenting spouse in influencing social and parental brain mechanisms.