Relatively new research utilizing MRIs has established that pregnancy physically alters a woman’s brain.
What about the dads? Does fatherhood have a physical impact on a man’s brain? The research will surprise you.
With the help of MRIs, researchers discovered that pregnancy enhances neuroplasticity in a woman’s brain, meaning the ability to alter the neural pathways and synapses as a result of an experience. They also found that pregnancy impacts the size of a woman’s brain and the outer surface, including what they call “theory of mind,” which involves making conclusions about the minds of other people. This would obviously benefit a mother attending to an infant who is unable to express needs or concerns.
But What About the Dads?
Multiple studies reveal hormonal changes that impact the behavior in men who interact with their infants. But until now, there was nothing to document that fatherhood physically modifies the brains of men.
A new study from the University of Southern California and the Instituto de Investigacion Sanitaria Gregorio Maranon in Madrid was published in Cerebral Cortex on September 7, 2022. It suggests that the father’s brain is also impacted physically by the birth of his child.
The study recruited 40 men – 20 in America and another 20 in Spain – plus a control group of 17 childless men.
They performed two MRIs on each man, the first during the pregnancy and again when the baby was six months old. The process included the control group of childless men.
The MRIs revealed “significant changes in the brains” of the fathers that were not present in the childless men. The areas affected were in a region of the cortex that controls “visual processing, attention and empathy toward the baby.”
Researchers say the degree of brain plasticity may correlate with the level of the fathers’ interaction with their babies. The MRIs of those fathers who were less involved with their babies demonstrated more subtle changes in their brains. Spanish fathers are more likely to experience a generous paternity leave resulting in increased time spent with their infants. As a result, these fathers may be more familiar with their infants’ cues compared to the fathers in California.
It is well known that the birth of a child will change a dad’s world. Now budding science suggests infants leave their mark in more ways than one, creating a physical bond with both the mother and father. This is more tangible evidence that underscores the importance of an intact family unit.