Photo of Dr. Larissa Duncan
Mothers, Babies, and the Neural Effects of Mindfulness

The prestigious PEACE Grant will fund a study led by Larissa Duncan, the Elizabeth C. Davies Chair in Child and Family Well-Being, Associate and Faculty Director for the Center for Child and Family Well-Being, and Associate Professor in Human Development and Family Studies.

Considerable research supports the positive effects of mindfulness on our health and wellness, including benefits for pregnant women who are experiencing depression. What’s not known is how mindfulness practices among parents might cascade to their children. In two years, we’ll have more answers thanks to the work of Larissa Duncan (pictured) funded by a PEACE Grant from the Mind and Life Institute.

Duncan, along with co-principal investigator Heidemarie Laurent at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will examine the neural responses of mothers to their own infants cries. The two will be comparing data from mothers receiving typical childbirth education against data from moms completing the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) program.

They’ll also document infant development between the two groups through the PEACE
Grant as well as through a concurrent study funded by the Center for Healthy Minds
and conducted in collaboration with assistant professor Sarah Short, Dorothy King Chair in Educational Psychology at UW-Madison. In that initiative, researchers will collect data on the impact of maternal participation in MBCP during pregnancy on their babies’ brains using an exceptionally quiet and non-imposing functional MRI protocol designed especially for infants.

The project earned one of just six global PEACE Grants awarded through an intensely
competitive process and will deepen the data that already informs Duncan’s work with UW Health to bring the mindfulness-based training to Wisconsin parents and families as part of SoHE’s Prenatal to Five Initiative.

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