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Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
Researchers at Emory University have concluded, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that attentive, nurturing fathers are statistically more likely to have smaller testicles than distant, less empathetic fathers. The finding is consistent with the belief that lower testosterone levels contribute to a father‘s enjoyment of parenting, patience, kindness, and other characteristics. More from NBC News:
“The general idea is that lower testosterone on a day-to-day basis helps attune fathers to the needs of their children,” University of Notre Dame anthropologist Lee Gettler, who studies this effect, told NBC News.
Lower testosterone may also make men more empathetic, less aggressive, less interested in mating, or all these.
The idea is part of Life History Theory. The theory holds that many animals, including people, trade off between putting resources into mating, versus parenting. The more energy devoted to having sex, and engaging in competition with others to do so, the less that’s left for raising offspring, and vice versa.
The life histories of children have shown that the more stress and family disruption they experience, the greater the risk they’ll face troubles later. Girls with an absent father, for example, are more likely to start their periods sooner, have sex sooner, and to become single mothers. Boys with absent fathers or stressful childhoods are more likely to begin having sex earlier. They are more likely to put more effort into mating, less into parenting.
The Emory group, led by post-doctoral fellow Jennifer Mascaro in the lab of James Rilling, is the first to use testicle size as a physical marker, and to see if testicle size correlates with brain reward – positive feelings — from nurturing as a way to help explain variation in male parenting.
Image: Happy father and son, via Shutterstock
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Friday, December 21st, 2012
New research is finding that oxytocin, the hormone that brings about feelings of love, connection, and belonging in relationships, may help fathers bond better with their children. More from Time.com:
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“In a study published in Biological Psychiatry, 35 fathers played with their five month old daughters, once after being given a nasal spray containing either oxytocin and again after being given a placebo. Each time, they were instructed to engage in a task called the “still face” paradigm, which produces a small, heart-tugging drama. Researchers measured oxytocin levels in both the dads and their babies before and after the exercise.
First, the father smiles and plays with the baby, who sits in an infant seat facing him. Then he keeps his face blank and expressionless, refusing to respond as the infant makes increasingly worried attempts to re-engage him. After a few minutes of watching but ignoring the child’s distress, the dad resumes a more loving expression and reassures baby that all is well.
After receiving oxytocin, the fathers were generally more responsive to their little girls— almost certainly having a harder time keeping their faces blank during the “still face” and consequently responding far more quickly when instructed to re-engage. Under the influence of the hormone, the dads made more eye contact, provided more touch, had more mirroring and reciprocal interactions and indulged in more baby talk than after receiving placebo.
Their babies also tended to respond more to their dads who had received the oxytocin sprays—with increased smiles, laughter, mirroring and play behavior—compared to their behavior when their dads were receiving the placebo. Their own oxytocin rose in near perfect sync with the elevation of the hormone occurring in their fathers.”
Monday, September 10th, 2012
Fathers might not carry babies in their wombs or breastfeed them or even change all that many diapers–but scientists are learning more and more about the myriad levels of influence dads have on their children. A New York Times op-ed by science editor Judith Shulevitz reads, in part:
Before I began reading up on fathers and their influence on future generations, I had a high-school-biology-level understanding of how a man passes his traits on to his child. His sperm and the mother’s egg smash into each other, his sperm tosses in one set of chromosomes, the egg tosses in another, and a child’s genetic future is set for life. Physical features: check. Character: check. Cognitive style: check. But the pathways of inheritance, I’ve learned, are subtler and more varied than that. Genes matter, and culture matters, and how fathers behave matters, too.
Lately scientists have become obsessed with a means of inheritance that isn’t genetic but isn’t nongenetic either. It’s epigenetic. “Epi,” in Greek, means “above” or “beyond.” Think of epigenetics as the way our bodies modify their genetic makeup. Epigenetics describes how genes are turned on or off, in part through compounds that hitch on top of DNA — or else jump off it — determining whether it makes the proteins that tell our bodies what to do.
In the past decade or so, the study of epigenetics has become so popular it’s practically a fad. Psychologists and sociologists particularly like it because gene expression or suppression is to some degree dictated by the environment and plays at least as large a role as genes do in the development of a person’s temperament, body shape and predisposition to disease. I’ve become obsessed with epigenetics because it strikes me as both game-changing and terrifying. Our genes can be switched on or off by three environmental factors, among other things: what we ingest (food, drink, air, toxins); what we experience (stress, trauma); and how long we live.
Image: Father and son, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
The first longitudinal study of testosterone levels in fathers has found that the longer a man has been a father–and the more involved with the daily care of his children he is–the lower his testosterone level drops.
The study measured testosterone levels in 21-year-old men before they became fathers, and then again 5 years later. Those who became fathers had more than double the drop in testosterone than non-fathers (all men experience a drop in testosterone as they age). And those men who spent more than three hours caring for their children each day had the lowest level of all.
The New York Times reports on the study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
“The real take-home message,” said Peter Ellison, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard who was not involved in the study, is that “male parental care is important. It’s important enough that it’s actually shaped the physiology of men.”
“Unfortunately,” Dr. Ellison added, “I think American males have been brainwashed” to believe lower testosterone means that “maybe you’re a wimp, that it’s because you’re not really a man.
“My hope would be that this kind of research has an impact on the American male. It would make them realize that we’re meant to be active fathers and participate in the care of our offspring.”
The study, experts say, suggests that men’s bodies evolved hormonal systems that helped them commit to their families once children were born. It also suggests that men’s behavior can affect hormonal signals their bodies send, not just that hormones influence behavior. And, experts say, it underscores that mothers were meant to have child care help.
“This is part of the guy being invested in the marriage,” said Carol Worthman, an anthropologist at Emory University who also was not involved in the study. Lower testosterone, she said, is the father’s way of saying, “ ‘I’m here, I’m not looking around, I’m really toning things down so I can have good relationships.’ What’s great about this study is it lays it on the table that more is not always better. Faster, bigger, stronger — no, not always.”
(image via: http://www.hfihouston.org)
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Friday, June 17th, 2011
This week, as Father’s Day (June 19) approaches, President Barack Obama announced a yearlong initiative called “Strong Fathers, Strong Families” designed to help fathers be more involved in the lives of their children in fun, meaningful ways.
The kickoff event was a screening of the Disney/Pixar film “Cars 2″ for military dads and their kids. Throughout the year, the program will offer dads free admissions or discounts to zoos, aquariums, bowling centers, and sporting events, as well as special deals on the group buying websites Groupon and LivingSocial.
“Father’s Day reminds us parents that we have no more solemn obligation than to care for our children. But far too many young people in America grow up without their dads, and our families and communities are challenged as a result,” said President Obama in a statement. “Through my administration’s fatherhood initiative and the year of Strong Fathers, Strong Families, we’re taking steps to offer men who want to be good fathers a little extra help, while working with partners around the country to encourage personal responsibility and help fathers connect with kids.”
Fathers can sign up for updates at fatherhood.gov.
Explore Parents.com extensive Father’s Day page for gift ideas, recipes, and traditions to start in your family.
(image via: http://www.parade.com)
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