While the loudest voices in our culture continue to insist that men and women are interchangeable, science is offering more evidence than ever that the two sexes are anything but interchangeable. Nowhere is this uniqueness more apparent than in the distinct and very real transformations that both men and women undergo on becoming parents.
Of course, having children changes a woman—both body and mind—but it turns out men experience changes, too. They may not be as outwardly obvious as those in women, but they are dramatic and life-altering.
Writing at The New York Times, Oxford anthropologist Anna Machin cites a decade of findings on how men are designed to respond physically, emotionally, and neurologically to the arrival of a baby. And those changes, she observes, aren’t the same as those seen in women.
For example, a five-year study of over 600 men in the Philippines found that those who became fathers experienced a significant drop in testosterone—the hormone associated with male aggression, strength, and sex drive.
While this may herald the arrival of the stereotypical “dad-bod”—which I may or may not know something about—it also marks a critical transition in a father’s behavior. Lower testosterone makes way for a cast of new hormones that draw him toward his partner and infant, and encourage him to participate in “caregiving and baby-related household tasks…”
Machin points to studies indicating that the lower a man’s testosterone, the more likely his brain is to experience surges of bonding and reward hormones like oxytocin and dopamine when he spends time with his child. These are partly responsible for that feeling of warmth and contentment new parents know so well—a feeling that helps make up for the sleepless nights and dirty diapers that come with a newborn.
But here’s where things become really interesting, and where science is showing how biologically distinct dads are from moms. A 2012 study by Israeli neuroscientists found that the parts of the brain that light up most dramatically in fathers aren’t those most active in mothers. Machin writes: “For moms, regions closer to the core of the brain—which enable them to care, nurture and detect risk—were most active. But for dads, the parts that shone most brightly were located on the outer surface of the brain, where higher, more conscious cognitive functions sit, such as thought, goal orientation, planning and problem solving.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris