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Fatherhood: a neuroscience perspective

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How important is a dad in the life of his kid? How important is a kid in the life of his dad? I've given some thought to those questions in recent months, following the publication of a study showing that adolescents raised by lesbian parents are as - if not more - well-adjusted than those raised with the help of a father.

Today, an article in Scientific American offers a neuroscience perspective in support of fatherhood. Brian Mossop, PhD, begins by pointing out that men, unlike women, aren't exactly necessary in the survival of their babies: they don't gestate or lactate. But he says:

The father-child bond is crucial to a kid’s future success. If a father leaves his offspring to be raised solely by their mother, the children are more likely to suffer emotional troubles, be aggressive, experience addiction issues, or have run-ins with the law.

That influence, he says, goes both ways:

A recent study has shown that neurogenesis took place in male mice in the days following the birth of their pups. But the extra boost of brain cells only occurred if the mouse father stayed in the nest. In other words, if he was removed on the day of their birth, nothing happened. One new set of brain cells formed in the olfactory bulb, and were specifically tuned to the smells of his pups. Another set of neurons grew in the hippocampus, a crucial memory center in the brain, which helped to consolidate the smell of his pups into a long-term memory.

. . .These animal studies show that a father's brain is significantly and beautifully intertwined with his offspring's. For whatever reasons, be they biological, evolutional, or societal, the onus of human parenthood has traditionally fallen on the mother. But the evidence is showing that a father has direct influence on his child's neurodevelopment - and indeed, his brain can benefit as well.

Photo by Karen Sheets
Related: Children of sperm donors finding each other on the web

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