Fathers’ Brains Respond Differently to Toddler Daughters Than Sons

A new study suggests that Fathers sang more often for their toddler daughters and more likely to spoke about emotions, including sadness, possibly because they are more accepting of girls' feelings than boys.


Father with toddler daughters are more attentive to daughter’s needs than fathers with toddler sons. A new study suggests that Fathers sang more often for their toddler daughters and more likely to spoke about emotions, including sadness, possibly because they are more accepting of girls’ feelings than boys. They are more likely to use analytical language which next leads to future academic success.

On the other hand, the fathers with toddler boy, more likely to use more achievement-related language while talking. For example, words such as proud, win and top.

Lead researcher Jennifer Mascaro at Emory University said, “If the child cries out or asks for Dad, Fathers of daughters responded to that more than did fathers of sons. We should be aware of how unconscious notions of gender can play into the way we treat even very young children.”

The research analyzed father’s way of treating sons or daughters influenced by different brain responses to male or female children. But, the study couldn’t determine if those different brain responses meant fathers are somehow hard-wired through genetics or evolution to treat sons differently than they treat daughters or if the fathers were conforming to societal norms relating to gender.

Scientists involved 52 fathers of toddlers (30 girls, 22 boys) in the Atlanta area who agreed to clip a small handheld computer onto their belts and wear it for one weekday and one weekend day. The device randomly turned on for 50 seconds every nine minutes to record any sound during the 48-hour period.

Scientists also asked fathers to go underwent functional MRI brain scans while viewing photos of an unknown adult child and their own child with happy, sad or neutral facial expressions.

Researchers found that father with toddler daughters had greater responses to their daughters’ happy facial expressions in areas of the brain important for visual processing, reward, emotion regulation, and face processing than fathers of sons.

At the other hand, the brains of the fathers of boys responded more robustly to their sons’ neutral facial expressions. Because fathers are responding to the more ambiguous emotional displays of their sons.

Mascaro, an assistant professor said, “The fathers also were told to leave the device charging in their child’s room at night so any nighttime interactions with their children could be recorded.”

The study couldn’t make any definitive long-term connections between the varying treatment of sons or daughters as toddlers. But, it explores some possible links that may offer some recommendations for fathers.

Mascaro said, “If fathers are more present and attentive to daughters and open to expressing emotions, that may help girls develop more empathy than boys, so fathers of sons could take the same approach as fathers of daughters. The fact that fathers may actually be less attentive to the emotional needs of boys, perhaps despite their best intentions, is important to recognize.”

“Previous research also has shown that rough-and-tumble play by parents can help young children better regulate their emotions. Fathers of daughters may want to engage in more rough-and-tumble play with girls, even though such play is more often associated with boys.”

“Most dads are trying to do the best they can and do all the things they can to help their kids succeed, but it’s important to understand how their interactions with their children might be subtly biased based on gender.”


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