The Biology of Fatherhood

Mary Beth Paternity Leave a Comment

The evolution of Fatherhood can be traced through changing attitudes and the societal norms of of a given historical period. From Victorian ideas of masculinity defined by a focus on work, and being the protector-provider,  to a more contemporary perspective of the father as a self defined, multifaceted role. This modern ideal of the father often still includes protector and provider— as well as caregiver and nurturer. The evolution and examination of Fatherhood has always been viewed through a sociological lens, but what about the biology of Fatherhood?

A study published in May 2014 examined the biological impact of Fatherhood as it relates to changes in the brain. By conducting brain scans the researchers were able to measure hormonal output and neural activities that signal the malleability of men’s brains to adapt to the demands of Fatherhood. Instead of being hardwired and unchangeable, fathers’ brains demonstrated an impressive adaptability to activate the the emotional network that deals with social bonding, vigilance, and responses to stress and the child’s well being.

According to the study, “Primary-caregiving fathers exhibited high amygdala activation similar to mothers, alongside high superior temporal sulcus (STS) activation comparable to fathers, and functional connectivity between amygdala and STS. Among all fathers, time spent in childcare correlated with amygdala-STS connectivity. Findings describe mechanisms of brain malleability with caregiving experiences in human fathers.”

In more simple terms, changes in brain activity are consistent in fathers who spend significant time as primary caregivers. This study suggests that there may be a dedicated neural network for parenting in both genders and that network is adaptable to the level of responsibility required to care for the child.

One of the study’s authors, Ruth Feldman, stated, “Fathers have the capacity to do it as well as mothers, but they need daily caregiving activities to ignite that mothering network.”

Fathers play a vital role in the health and well being of their children. It will be interesting to see what new information is discovered through research into the biological changes that are triggered by Fatherhood.

The study is available for free on the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences website.

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