Until recently nearly all human research on the neural effects of parenting has been focused on mothers. But a new paper published by researchers at the University of Denver and Yale are changing that.
By scanning the brains of dads in the first two weeks of infancy and then again 12 to 16 weeks later a comparison was made. Amazingly, the second scan showed that fathers gained grey matter volume in a number of areas.
What do all these brain volume increases mean? It’s hard to know, but the researchers implicates many of these neural regions as important for attachment and nurturing behaviors. The changes may also reflect the new and powerful importance of babies to their fathers. But which comes first – the importance or the brain changes?
The new research also uncovered several brain regions that appeared to shrink in early fatherhood. The regions displaying reduced grey matter volume are parts of the brain that tends to become collectively more active as we switch off from the outside world. The researchers speculated that the shrinking of these brain regions could reflect a “shift of resources” away from the external issues, in line with fathers’ new vigilance for their precious offspring.
I think most fathers know that they are changed by becoming dads but it can be helpful to have scientific evidence that, indeed, we are significantly affected by our transition into parenthood.