Most new mothers are quick to acknowledge that their thought processes change once a baby is born. An Israeli neuropsychologist wanted to know if the new way of thinking is a conscious adjustment to motherhood or if hormones and other pregnancy-related physiological changes brought about the change subconsciously. What she discovered could signal a breakthrough for gay men wanting to become fathers.

Father and daughterTo learn more, Ruth Feldman, of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, documented brain activity in new mothers, new heterosexual fathers, and gay fathers of recently adopted children. Feldman’s research team found that the brain activity of new mothers did indeed respond to their babies’ signals. They discovered new hetero fathers’ brains responded, too, but in a different region of the brain than the mothers. The brains of the homosexual fathers changed most of all, responding to their child’s signals the way heterosexual mothers and heterosexual fathers responded.

Feldman positioned her study participants in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tube and observed their brain activity as each participant watched a video of his or her child and a second video that did not include their own children. Each video included footage of the child crying and exhibiting other emotional cues.

The study participants were:

  • 20 mothers, all primary caregivers of their children
  • 21 heterosexual fathers who actively participated in their child’s care but relied mostly on their wives for child care
  • 48 homosexual fathers raising a child with their husbands

When the women watched the video starring their own child, a specific structure of the brain — the amygdala — was triggered. This region, which processes emotions, became about five times more active when the women were watching their own children than when they watched other children. According to Feldman, this region of the brain responds “unconsciously to signs of an infant’s needs” and produces “deep emotional reward” at sight of the baby.

The heterosexual fathers exhibited increased brain activities, too, but in an area of the brain associated with cognitive interpretation. This part of the brain makes it possible to watch a baby’s body language, hear its cries, and know if the baby is “about to scream” or needs a diaper change.

The brains of the gay fathers became active in both regions at the same time. These men had more abundant and more active communication networks between the two brain regions, indicating the gay father was thinking like both father and mother. Furthermore, the more time a gay man spent with his child, the stronger and more active the communication network.

Feldman is confident this brain activity is a natural result of parenting, not conscious decision. “Fathers’ brains are very plastic,” she says, and “when there are two fathers, their brains must recruit both networks, the emotional and cognitive, for optimal parenting.”


Source: Begley, Sharon. “Gay dads’ brains show activity akin to both parents’: study.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters. May 26, 2014. Web. Jun 16, 2014

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