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Study finds gay dads' brains act like mothers' and fathers' brains at the same time

Researchers recorded the brain activity of 48 gay fathers when they could see their kids and compared that to the brain activity of heterosexual mothers and fathers and found they displayed similarities to both
A same-sex couple with a young child
Photo by Kurt Löwenstein Educational Center International Team

New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) this week has shown parenthood changes the brain activity of gay fathers in ways that mimic the brains of heterosexual mothers and fathers.

Researchers videotaped 89 new mothers and fathers interacting with their infants at home and then measured the parents' brain activity while watching videos of their kids to see how they would react.

In the 20 mothers in the study, watching their babies triggered heightened activity in the brain's emotion-processing regions, particularly in the amygdala, which was five times more active than when they watching videos that were not of their kids

For the 21 heterosexual fathers, watching their infant increased activation of cognitive circuits, particularly a structure that interprets a baby's cries and non-verbal cues.

However the 48 gay fathers raising children with their husbands showed both an increase in emotional sensitivity and cognitive focus simultaneously.

The researchers also tested the levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin in all the parents and found no difference among the three groups.

The study was intended to build on previous research showing that the brains of new mothers change become hyper-reactive to their child's cries and other emotional cues.

It was not clear if that change was a result of the hormonal and other changes that accompany pregnancy or a response to the experience of parenthood.

This new research appears to show that the experience of parenthood changes a person’s brain activity whether they are a biological parent or not.

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