On the webpage of the British magazine New Scientist, Linda Geddes wrote an article ironically titled “Fathers aren't dispensable just yet”, on which comments on recent research done on the biological implications of fatherhood. This research shows biochemical evidence in mice and people that suggests that fathers may play a key role in the rearing of offspring.
Several studies have already indicated the sociological and psychological effects of fatherlessnes in girls and boys. Girls reach puberty younger, become sexually active earlier and are more likely to get pregnant in their teens if their father was absent (Mairi Macleod, “Why are girls growing up so fast?”). Other studies suggest that the sons of absent fathers display lower intimacy and self-esteem.
But recent studies are indicating that fatherlessness has also physiological implications. Gabriella Gobbi at McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, studied California mice, a species on which both parents rear their offspring together. Her colleague Francis Bambico presented their findings at the World Congress of Biological Psychiatry in Paris, France, in early July.
The researchers removed the fathers from some of the mouse pups, and looked at the activity of brain cells in the prefrontal cortex, an area related to social interaction and expression of personality. Cells in pups deprived of fathers had a lower response to the hormone oxytocin, which is normally released during social interactions and pair bonding. As a result of this, fatherless mice were less interested in engaging with other mice. "Usually if you put two animals in the same cage they investigate and touch each other, but when we put two animals deprived of a father together they ignored each other," says Gobbi.
These findings are not the only ones that point out to the previously denied biological nature of fatherhood. There is evidence that when men become fathers they undergo biochemical changes that affect their behavior. Ruth Feldman of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, studied 80 couples, and found that the transition to parenthood was associated with increased oxytocin both in mothers and in fathers.
Feldman also found that oxytocin has different effects in each sex. In mothers, high levels of the hormone caused them to be more engaged in gazing at the infant, affectionate touching and speaking in a sing-song voice. Fathers with high oxytocin played more with their child, who in return displayed more attachment to them.
"Fathers and mothers contribute in a very specific and different way" to infants' social and emotional development, says Feldman.
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PRO-JOINT CUSTODY ORGANIZATIONS
- Asociación Española Multidisciplinar de Investigación sobre Interferencias Parentales (ASEMIP)
- Canadian Equal Parenting Council
- Center for Parental Responsibility
- Children's Rights Council
- Grandparents Rights Organization
- Joint Custody Association of Norway
- Kids Need 2 Parents
- National Parents Organization
- Padres y Madres en Acción
- Parental Alienation Awareness Organization
- Plataforma por la Custodia Compartida
FATHER'S RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
- American Coalition for Fathers and Children
- Amor de Papá
- Asociación Catalana de Padres Separados
- Dads America
- Dads4Kids: Fatherhood Foundation
- Fathers 4 Justice
- Glenn Sacks
- Great Dad
- Illinois Fathers
- Louisiana Dads
- Padres de la Guarda
- The Fatherhood Educational Institute
- The National Fathers Resource Center