Get access

Emotions, stress, and maternal motivation in primates


  • Dario Maestripieri

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Comparative Human Development, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
    • Department of Comparative Human Development, The University of Chicago, 5730 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637
    Search for more papers by this author


Recent research conducted with nonhuman primates confirms that adaptive emotional processes, such as maternal attraction arousability and maternal anxiety arousability, enhance and sustain female motivation to interact with infants, invest in them, and protect them during the postpartum period. Changes in these emotional processes, and concomitant changes in maternal motivation, facilitate the reduction and eventual termination of maternal investment associated with infant weaning. Although laboratory studies of rodents and socially deprived rhesus monkeys have suggested that nulliparous females are neophobic and find infant stimuli aversive, recent primate research indicates that neophobia or aversion to infant stimuli do not occur in females with normal developmental experience. Furthermore, although some rodent and human studies have shown that lactation is accompanied by physiological hyporesponsiveness to stress, other studies of rodents, nonhuman primates, and humans indicate that mothers are highly vulnerable to stress and that stress-induced dysregulation of emotions can interfere with maternal motivation and parenting behavior. It is possible that some aspects of the emotional and experiential regulation of maternal motivation and parental behavior are different in different mammalian species. However, variation in the environments in which subjects are tested and in their developmental experience may also be responsible for the some discrepancies between the results of different studies. Am. J. Primatol. 73:516–529, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.