How fatherhood reshapes your brain

The joys of fatherhood. Becoming a father changes a man’s outlook. It focuses his attention. It typically encourages him to work harder and think more about the future. It tends to make him less selfish. Brain prepares pregnant women to bond with newborn child, what about future dads? While taking care of kids, a man’s brain shows the same patterns of cognitive and emotional engagement that are seen in mothers, a new study showed, suggesting that there could be a parenting brain network that is common to both sexes.

In a study published last month in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the Bar-Ilan University in Israel show that fatherhood changes men’s brain, in ways that it seems to equip dads with the very same “baby sense” that’s often attributed to moms.

Researchers looked at brain activity in 89 new parents as they watched videos, including some that featured the parents’ own kids. Participants were 20 moms who were the primary caregivers, 21 dads who were secondary caregivers and 48 homosexual dads who were primary caregivers in their committed relationships.

The moms in the study had amygdala activity, the hotspot for memories and emotions like worrying, that was five times stronger than dads who took the passenger seat in parenting. Dads, on the other hand, had activity in their superior temporal sulcus – the part of the brain used to read faces and piece together speech.

All three groups of parents showed activation of brain networks linked to emotional processing and social understanding. In particular, fathers who were their children’s primary caregivers showed the kind of activation in emotional processing seen mostly in primary caregiver moms.

These results show evidence that mothers’ and fathers’ brains use a similar neural circuitry when taking care of their children. Taking care of a child reshapes a dad’s brain, causing it to show the same patterns of cognitive and emotional engagement that are seen in moms, researchers said.

While mom and baby share a kindred connection, the researchers are certain dads are crucial too. “The more fathers are going to take an active role the more we’ll see the brain changes we’re talking about. Father’s brain and mother’s brain are going to be much more comparable,” study co-author Dr. Ruth Feldman explained.

Earlier studies had shown that new fathers experience an increase in the hormones estrogen, oxytocin, prolactin and glucocorticoids. What seemed to induce these hormonal changes were their contact with the mother and children, researchers noted.

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