Think your partner isn’t cut out to be the primary caregiver based on reasons of biology alone? The findings of a new study demonstrate otherwise. In a study testing the neurological basis of parenting, it was discovered that dads who take over as the primary caregiver show similar brain patterns as mothers when it comes to caring for their children.
Specifically, it’s the amygdala, the area in the brain responsible for vigilance and reward, that becomes more engaged as caregiving duties increase. Scientists have known this to be true of mothers, who experience the change from hormones in both pregnancy and childbirth, for quite some time, but this recent discovery of changes in mens’ brains is a new phenomenon.
The study’s author, Ruth Feldman, an adjunct professor at Yale, told Bloomberg that the way it works in men is that the area of the brain “responsible for interpreting their child’s needs recruits the amygdala to activate only when a mother isn’t around,” thus, if a father takes on the role of primary caregiver while mom goes to the office everyday, his brain engages and works to understand the child he is caring for. Feldman continued: “Fathers should engage in child-care activity because this is their pathway to brain changes and attachment. When mothers are around, fathers’ amygdala can rest and mothers do the worrying. When mothers are not around, fathers’ brains need to assume this function.”
There’s work yet to be done to better understand the study’s findings, but it’s a useful start. New fathers treading the unfamiliar waters of caring for an infant can rest assured that the brain chemistry will help them figure it all out.