Brain Changes: How Fathers Function as the Primary Caregivers

First Posted: May 27, 2014 11:12 AM EDT

Fathers who take on the maternal role are more likely to experience brain changes that concern them with the baby's safety and overall well-being. New research shows that the brain's neural network fires specific signals targeted to emotional-processing based on gender. 

"Pregnancy, childbirth and lactation are very powerful primers in women to worry about their child's survival," said study senior author Ruth Feldman, a researcher in the department of psychology and the Gonda Brain Sciences Center at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, via Health Day. "Fathers have the capacity to do it as well as mothers, but they need daily caregiving activities to ignite that mothering network."

For the study, researchers hung out with 89 first-time parents, which also included 20 primary-caregiving heterosexual mothers and 21 secondary-caregiving heterosexual fathers.

Researchers observed the parents' behavior and performed brain scans to locate regions activated during child and parent interaction.

Findings showed a distinct difference between the brains of women when taking on support as the primary caregiver, versus men. For instance, women had more activity than men in the amygdala when taking on the role as the primary caregiver.

However, men showed more activity in their superior temporary sulcus, a region of the brain that's responsible for logical tasks directly related to social interaction, including processing speech and social cues.

"In fathers, their parenting is guided much more by understanding and empathizing in a cognitive way," Feldman added. "The more fathers are involved in active caregiving, the more the fathering network will activate the mothering network."

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal PNAS.

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