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Dad's Brain May Become More 'Maternal' When He's...

Regions where emotions are processed get more active, researchers report

continued...

But when a man takes on the primary caregiving role -- in this case, as part of a committed homosexual relationship -- both "parenting" regions of the brain become highly active, researchers found.

"They have the father's cognitive structures, but the amygdala is sensitive to child-care experiences and it can activate to the level of mothers," Feldman said.

The degree of connectivity between the two brain regions in all fathers correlated with the amount of time spent taking care of the child, suggesting that fathers' brains adapt to a more active parenting role.

"The more fathers are involved in active caregiving, the more the fathering network will activate the mothering network," Feldman said.

Jeannie Bertoli, a relationship and family counselor based in Woodland Hills, Calif., noted that the research did not include any families where the father was the primary caregiver and the mother had assumed a secondary role.

She hopes that follow-up research will look at whether mothers can lose the amygdala-driven bond established through childbirth after they've rejoined the workforce.

It also will be important to test whether brain changes occur in men who are primary caregivers in a heterosexual relationship, Bertoli added.

In addition to the amygdala finding, the researchers also linked activity in all parts of the brain's parenting network to the release of oxytocin, which Feldman said serves as the "love" and "bonding" hormone that rewards togetherness and caring.

"Oxytocin levels were about the same among all parents," whether male or female and whether primary or secondary caregiver, she said.

The findings are published May 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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