News reports tell of a study by Israeli scientists on the changes in human brains as we parent. They used mothers as a baseline sort of (unusual because much science focuses on males to a fault) and found two circuits were differentially active, one mediating an emotional response and influenced by the hormone, oxytocin, and the other a ‘mentalizing’ circuit that mediates the empathic assumption of another’s mind and then surmises what goes on inside there. Mothers’ responses were primarily the former and fathers’ responses were more the latter.
Here is a picture of one of my favorite activities with my child or any child, the sharing of attention. Initially, of course, the adult must actively attend to the child’s focus but later the child will actively attend to the adult’s. And then they talk about it. Deaf children and their parents have somewhat of a challenge here because to talk about the activity, they must shift to the hands and eyes to communicate, posing some interruption to the joint activity. Still they are sharing attention and this arouses both emotional attachment and mindful attunement.
And here is a special feature of the Israeli study. They included gay fathers who were the primary caregivers and found that they fell between the heterosexual mothers and fathers, more emotionally engaged than the males and more mindfully engaged than the females. It sort of gives new meaning to “swinging both ways.”
As a final aside Jaak Panksepp says that he taught his students that there were four sexes based upon whether they had male or female bodies and whether they had male or female brains. Our embryological development is a rather magnificent occurence with astounding variability. Someday I hope we appreciate the variety nature provides, and kudos to these Israeli scientists for their efforts at inclusivity.
Almost forgot a link: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/05/22/1402569111.abstract[/embed]