Being a child’s primary caregiver changes your brain activity

By admin
05 June 2014

People often accept women are naturally better suited to care for children than men. And after doing so for centuries, it really comes as no surprise our brains have a firm handle on the various skills and emotions necessary for this task. But what happens when a man has to be a child’s primary caregiver?

A recent scientific study has shown the care of a child has a certain effect on the brain – regardless of the gender of the carer. This research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Researchers looked at what happens to the brain when a parent cares for their child. A group of 89 first-time parents were used for the study. They consisted of heterosexual women who are primary caregivers, heterosexual men who are the supporting parent and homosexual men who are the primary caregivers of their children without any involvement of a woman.

The parents were asked to watch videos of their own interaction with their children while researchers paid close attention to their brain activity. A parental caregiving neural network was identified which includes an emotional area which regulates the awareness of a child’s safety and a social area which helps parents understand messages from their kids.

Results showed the brain activity of dads who spend more time caring for their children changes to make them more susceptible to being concerned for their child’s safety. There were clear differences between the brain activity of women who are primary caregivers and men who play a supporting role. The women’s emotional brain areas were five times more active while men’s activity was higher in social areas. However, when a man is the primary caregiver of a child, both areas become extremely active.

“Pregnancy, childbirth and lactation are very powerful primers in women to worry about their child’s survival,” says senior researcher Ruth Feldman. “Fathers have the capacity to do it as well as mothers, but they need daily caregiving activities to ignite that mothering network.”

-Compiled by Suzaan Hauman


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