Science and Health

Fathers' Brains Change When Taking On Primary Caregiver Role

According to a new study, fathers who are their child's primary caregiver undergo brain changes that make them more sensitive to baby's needs.

Fathers' Brains Change When Taking On Primary Caregiver Role
Wikimedia Commons / Ranveig

If you thought mothers tend to worry about their children more than fathers do, a new study says you're wrong.

According to new research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, fathers who take on the role of primary caregivers to their children undergo brain changes making them more likely to worry about their babies' safety and well-being.

To be more specific, the study found dads who act as the primary caregivers to their newborns experience an increase in activity in the amygdala, which is responsible for vigilance and reward in the brain. (Via YouTube / degirmenci jason)

The researchers claim this increase in activity causes fathers to experience parental emotions normally experienced by mothers, such as increased sensitivity to their infants' needs. (Via YouTube / shayleeandbaby)

One of the study's authors told HealthDay"Pregnancy, childbirth and lactation are very powerful primers in women to worry about their child's survival. Fathers have the capacity to do it as well as mothers, but they need daily caregiving activities to ignite that mothering network."

Researchers videotaped 89 first-time moms and dads taking care of their babies at home. The study included 20 straight mothers who acted as the primary caregiver, 21 straight fathers who served as the secondary caregiver and 48 gay, primary-caregiver fathers in committed relationships. (Via Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

After analyzing brain scans from each participant, the researchers say they saw five times as much activity in the amygdalas of the primary caregiver mothers than they did in the secondary caregiver fathers. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Ranveig)

But as Time points out, the 48 gay fathers' brains responded similarly to both the straight mothers and fathers. "Their emotional circuits were as active as mothers,' and their cognitive circuits were as active as the fathers.'"

The study's authors say this is the first large study of the parental brain. They stress more research into the subject is needed "in order to better understand when things go wrong, and to devise better interventions in such cases."