Kids on My Mind: Parenting Changes Dad’s Brain!


We’ve known for quite a while that parenthood facilitates changes in mom’s brain that help her be more nurturing.  It turns out that being a hands-on parent changes dad’s brain too!

“Our findings add to the evidence that fathers, and not just mothers, undergo hormonal changes that are likely to facilitate increased empathy and motivation to care for their children,” said lead author Dr. James Rilling, an Emory University anthropologist and director of the Laboratory for Darwinian Neuroscience.

The study found that oxytocin, known to be the primary hormone in bonding, is more present in involved dads and that increased levels of this hormone stimulate the brain in unique ways.  Specifically…

This heightened activity in the caudate nucleus, dorsal anterior cingulate and visual cortex suggests that doses of oxytocin may augment feelings of reward and empathy in fathers, as well as their motivation to pay attention to their children, according to the study’s findings.

The study goes on to suggest that oxytocin therapy–in which a father is dosed with a nasal spray containing oxytocin–could be a helpful treatment for dads experiencing paternal postnatal depression (PPND–which affects up to 25% of new fathers) and makes it difficult for some dads to adequately connect with their children.

St. John Paul II’s theology of the body teaches us that reflecting on God’s design of our bodies can teach us a great deal about his intention for our relationships.  One of the primary conclusions of TOB is that we were created for connection and that every part of our being cries out for union with God and the people around us. Research like this really shows that God created fathers to be connected and affectionate with their children. Not only is doing so is good for baby’s brains  (previous studies show that affectionate fathers stimulate baby’s brain in ways that help the child regulate aggression) but affectionate connection also good for dad’s physiological sense of well being.  We were created for love, and our bodies speak to this truth. Dads can’t be whole unless they embrace the psychological, spiritual, and neurological invitation to love their children as God the Father loves us.

To learn more about becoming a father after God’s own heart, check out The Be-DAD-itudes: 8 Ways to Be An Awesome Dad



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