Oxytocin, a hormone that is more commonly associated with mothers and their newborns, has recently been discovered to play a role in affection between father and child. Typically in fathers, oxytocin’s only function involves the movement of the sperm. However, a study conducted by Emory Health Sciences and published by the journal Hormones and Behavior, demonstrates the direct effect of the increase of oxytocin on empathy a father has for his child.
The study’s goal was to investigate the inner workings of the brain when it came to caregiving among men. To achieve this, researchers studied thirty fathers of 1-2 year old children. Fifteen of the patients were given a dosage of oxytocin before one brain scan, and then a placebo dosage before another brain scan. The other fifteen fathers were given vasopressin, another hormone also associated with social bonding, and a placebo before another brain scan.
After undergoing a fMRI, the brain function of each patient was measured as the researchers flashed pictures of their children, other children, unknown adults, and even played infant cries to the dads. Interestingly, the study found that the nasal spray of oxytocin showed a significant increased response to viewing pictures of their children. The observed increase in activity occurred in the regions of the brain that is connected with feelings of empathy and reward processing.
Photo Credit: "Father's Love" by lambromounts
However, the oxytocin showed no difference when concerning response to the recordings of the infant cries.
James Rilling, director of the Laboratory for Darwinian Neuroscience, stated, “our findings add to the evidence that fathers, and not just the mothers, undergo hormonal changes that are likely to facilitate increase empathy and motivation to care for their children.”
This study is also predicted to be significant to “normalize deficits in paternal motivation, such as in men suffering from postpartum depression.” Perhaps, one day, this study can be applied to help fathers who suffer from postpartum depression, drug dependence, or who do not exhibit adequate bonding with their children.
Although more research needs to be conducted in order to analyze the inner workings of the brain mechanisms and its relation to “love,” this study concludes that the manipulating the correct hormones, or in this case-oxytocin, can effect sensitivity, compassion, and bonding in fathers.
Li T, Chen X, Mascaro J, Haroon E, Rilling JK. Intranasal oxytocin, but not vasopressin, augments neural responses to toddlers in human fathers. Intranasal oxytocin, but not vasopressin, augments neural responses to toddlers in human fathers.
How Dads bond with toddlers: Brain scans link oxytocin to paternal nurturing. ScienceDaily.