It has been long known that women go through an array of hormonal changes when becoming mothers, but now, a new study has shown that fathers are likely to undergo hormonal changes as well.
Dr. James Rilling, the lead investigator of the study explains,
“I’m interested in understanding why some fathers are more involved in caregiving than others. Our findings add to the evidence that fathers, and not just mothers, undergo hormonal changes that are likely to facilitate increased empathy and motivation to care for their children.”
The study, which was published in Hormones and Behaviour, studied the role of oxytocin on brain function in fathers. Oxytocin, a hormone involved in social bonding, was originally looked at as a female hormone due to its role in promoting breastmilk production.
Recently, researchers have become interested in understanding the roles of oxytocin in fathers as well. Previous research has found that higher blood levels of oxytocin in men improved the way they played with their children, and their ability to harmonize with their child’s emotions.
In order to study the paternal role of oxytocin on brain function, the research team compared neural activity in fathers of toddlers with and without nasal doses of oxytocin through the use of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanning. During their scan, the fathers were shown an image of their children, and an image of a child and adult they did not know.
When viewing images of their children, fathers with nasal doses of oxytocin showed elevated neural activity in areas of the brain associated with reward, empathy, and motivation.
This suggests that oxytocin may play a role in paternal bonding, particularly as a hormonal motivator in father-child interaction.