Monday, June 17, 2013

Science research supports value of fathers

SciAm has posted some research for Fathers Day:
1. For over a decade, research has established that when mothers show their infants new things, they act in ways that will help their babies effectively learn about new behaviors. For example, mothers are more likely to be physically close, interactive, enthusiastic, and repetitive when teaching their babies how to use new toys or try new things than when teaching other adults, much like how people unintentionally slip into those nasal, high-pitched “baby voices” when speaking to infants. Well, a study published last year finally established that fathers tend to engage in just as much of this helpful, “infant-directed action” as mothers do. ...

2. There may be a hidden psychological benefit to being a “Daddy’s Girl.” Women with warm, supportive father-daughter relationships had lower cortisol levels and attenuated cortisol spikes when responding to a stressful life event that had nothing to do with their fathers or their families; those who reported rejecting, chaotic relationships with their fathers had higher cortisol levels and more sensitive cortisol reactions. In other words, women who had good relationships with their fathers had healthier, more adaptive responses to stressful situations in their everyday lives, even when those situations were completely unrelated to their families. If you’re close with your Dad, you may want to call him up and say “thanks” every time you don’t lose your cool during rush hour.

3. Do you think that the only things you inherited from Dad were his ears and his love for Woody Allen movies? Think again. If you did well in school, you may have to thank Dad for that as well — and not just because he taught you all of those valuable life lessons that helped you along the way. Even when controlling for level of education and IQ, you can predict a kid’s academic performance from how well his or her father did.
The current Atlantic magazine explains The Distinct, Positive Impact of a Good Dad:
What this view overlooks, however, is a growing body of research suggesting that men bring much more to the parenting enterprise than money, especially today, when many fathers are highly involved in the warp and woof of childrearing. As Yale psychiatrist Kyle Pruett put it in Salon: "fathers don't mother."

Pruett's argument is that fathers often engage their children in ways that differ from the ways in which mothers engage their children. Yes, there are exceptions, and, yes, parents also engage their children in ways that are not specifically gendered. But there are at least four ways, spelled out in my new book, Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives (co-edited with Kathleen Kovner Kline), that today's dads tend to make distinctive contributions to their children's lives: The Power of Play, Encouraging Risk, Protecting His Own, Dad's discipline.
Here is another story, from this morning's newspaper:
From her perch at Randolph-Macon College in rural Ashland, Va., Lambert has spent years designing elaborate experiments to test nurturing in both male and female rodents. She anesthetizes the animals, carefully removes their brains, firms the brains up with formalin, freezes them, then shaves them into slices thinner than a strand of human hair to study under a microscope.

What Lambert's rodent brain slices are revealing is nothing short of revolutionary, challenging the loud pundits and long-held cultural views that only mothers are wired for nurture.

Lambert, one of a small but growing number of scientists who study the biology of father behavior, is finding that not just mothers experience surges of hormones associated with bonding and nurturing. The same hormones increase, though not to the same degree, in fathers.

Rat mothers are not the only ones whose brains become sharper, making them more efficient foragers and more courageous and level-headed than females without offspring. Lambert has found that the same is true of fathers' brains. Fatherhood makes the male California deer mouse smarter, too.
I am tempted to make some wisecracks about rat brains. Humans are different from rats.

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