Gianluca Esposito


In the wide field of social interactions, affiliative behaviors represent the sphere where people act in order to build, strengthen and improve close individual partnerships with others, including parenting and adult attachment. In the macro-area of mother-infant interaction, we focused on its different components such as infant cry, carrying, calming and parenting combining physiological, genetic, neuroimaging and behavioral protocols (e.g., EEG, ECG, EMG, GRS, fNIRS, fMRI) in order to get new insights on the early development of child psychopathology. Part of the research includes cross-cultural studies and comparative physiology of mother - offspring interaction across mammalian species, such as rodents and marmosets. 

As for the baby, we focus on aspects that might represent early biomarkers of disorders related to the autism spectrum, such as early motor asymmetries, infant cry and atypical acoustical features in early vocal production. With regards to the adult attachment, we are conducting a study on the dynamics of love to better understand mechanisms underlying in exclusive relationships and how they change in time according to the different features of the person.

Research directions

Comparative Physiology of Mother - Infant Interaction across mammalian Species and implication for atypical development Disorders

From an evolutionary point of view, mother-infant interaction is essential for the survival of mammalian infants. Therefore both mothers and infants are equipped with neural mechanisms that favor mother-infant interaction and are paramount for the development of mammalian infants. This study using genetic and pharmacological manipulations in rodents as well as physiological and behavioral testing in humans, aims to investigate the neural basis of early social interaction and gain new insights on the early development of child psychopathology (i.e. Autism Spectrum Disorder).

Parenting across Cultures and Minds

Although basic physiology of parental behavior is shared across mammalian species, higher cognition about parenting is culturally based. Aim of this research is to investigate employing behavioral protocols and neuroimaging techniques, intra and cross-cultural differences about human parenting and its effect on cognitive, emotional and social development.

Early Bio-Markers of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) represents a complex group of behaviorally defined conditions with core deficits in social communication. At present there remains a disconnection between the complex clinical aspects of ASD and the underlying neurobiology.

Using retrospective and prospective analysis, aim of this study is to define biomarkers that can be used for early screening and diagnosis of ASD. As candidate biomarkers we have been studying early motor asymmetries, as well as atypical acoustical features in early vocal production.

Internal collaborations

Paola Venuti - ODFLab, University of Trento (Italy)
Sara Dellantonio – University of Trento (Italy)


Funded Research
2016 NIH Collaborative Grant (21K$)
2014 FP7 PEOPLE-Marie Curie Career Integration Grants (PI, GA-2013-630166, 75K €)
2012 – 14 Wakate B, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (PI, B10618341, 50K US$)
2011 – 14 FPR Initiative, RIKEN, Japan (PI, 255K US$)
2010 Applied Science Funds, Japan Society Promotion of Science (PI, PE09064, 50K$)

Awards and Grants (<10K US$)
2017 IASSID Award for Outstanding Poster Presentation, Bangkok, Thailand
2015 Collaborative Grant, University of Graz Medical School, Austria
2014 Starting Grant Young Investigator, University of Trento, Italy
2013 Grant Support Program for Young RIKEN Staff (President's Fund), Wakoshi, Japan
2009 Grant from Zayed Higher Organization for Humanitarian Care, Abu Dhabi, UAE
2005 Grant from Dybwad International Fellowship Trust of Gettysburg, PA, USA
2003 Best Research Work Award. Association of the Italian Psychology

External collaborations

Cesare Furlanello – Bruno Kessler Foundation (FBK)
Maria Luisa Scattoni - Stella Maris Institute (Italy)
Filippo Muratori – Stella Maris Institute, (Italy)
Paolo Senese – Second University of Naples (Italy)
Cristian Ripoli – Cattolica University (Italy)
Luigi Pastore – University of Bari (Italy)

Marc H. Bornstein – Child and Family Research-NIH (USA)
Daniel Messinger – University of Miami (USA)
Roger Bakeman – Georgia State University (USA) 
Sergiu Pasca – Stanford University (USA)
Giacomo Vivanti – Drexel University (USA)
Kumi O. Kuroda – RIKEN Brain Science Institute (Japan)
Kazuyuki Shinohara – Nagasaki University (Japan)
Jun Nakazawa – Chiba University (Japan)
Luca Onnis – Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)
Peipei Setoh – Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)
Peter Marshik – University of Graz (Austria)
Carolina de Weerth – Radboud University (The Netherlands) 

Selected publications

  • Esposito, G., Hiroi N., Scattoni M.L. (2017). Cry, baby, cry: Expression of Distress as a Biomarker and Modulator in Autism Spectrum Disorder. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. (IF=4,71; Q1)
  • Esposito G., et al. (2013). Infant calming responses during maternal carrying in humans and mice. Current Biology, 23(9):739-745. (IF=10,99; Q1).
  • Esposito G., Truzzi A., Setoh P., Putnick D.L., Shinohara K., Bornstein MH. (2017). Genetic predispositions and parental bonding interact to shape adults’ physiological responses to social distress. Behavioral Brain Research. (IF=3,62; Q2)
  • Dellantonio S., Pastore L., Esposito G. (2017). Above and Below the Surface: Genetic and Cultural Factors in the Development of Values. Behavioral Brain Sciences, e235, 26-28. (IF=20,77; Q1)
  • Cataldo I., Azhari  A., Lepri B., Esposito, G. (2017). Oxytocin Receptors (OXTR) and Early Parental Care: An Interaction That Modulates Psychiatric Disorders. Research in Developmental Disabilities. (IF=2,18; Q1)
  • Truzzi, A., Bornstein M.H., Senese, V.P., Shinohara, K., Setoh, P., Esposito, G. (2017). Serotonin transporter gene polymorphisms and early parent-infant interactions are related to adult male heart rate response to female crying. Frontiers in Physiology. (IF=4.03; Q1)
  • Bornstein MH., Esposito G. (2014). Beyond cry and laugh: Toward a multi-level model of language production. Behevioral Brain Sciences, 37(6):548-549. (IF=20,77; Q1)
  • Marschik P., Zhang D., Esposito G., Bölte S., Einspieler C., Sigafoos J. (2017). Same or different: common pathways of behavioral biomarkers in infants and children with neurodevelopmental disorders? Behavioral Brain Sciences, 40. (IF=20,77; Q1)
  • Bornstein MH., Putnick D.L., Rigo P., Esposito G.,  et al. (2017) The Neurobiology of Culturally Common Maternal Responses to Infant Cry. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(45), E9465-E9473. (IF=9,61; Q1)
  • Tsuneoka Y., Tokita K., Yoshihara C., Amano T., Esposito G., et al. (2015). Distinct preoptic‐BST nuclei dissociate paternal and infanticidal behavior in mice. The EMBO Journal. (IF= 10,43; Q1)


Further information can be found at the following webpage: ABPLab - Affiliative Behaviour and Physiology Lab