Study: Gay Dads’ Brain Activity Similar to New Mothers and Fathers

An Israeli study revealed that the brain activity of gay fathers when they are around their children resembles the development of both heterosexual mothers and fathers.

BY Mitch Kellaway

May 28 2014 5:03 PM ET

A new study from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University shows that gay dads’ brains respond to their children in a way similar to both new mothers and to heterosexual new fathers, reports Reuters

According to findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, gay dads raising children exhibit a hyperactivity to children’s crying and other emotional cues akin to heterosexual new mothers, while their cognitive functioning resembles that of heterosexual new fathers.

These conclusions came from a study in which researchers first videotaped 89 parents interacting with their infants at home, then measured brain activity while the parents watched that video, comparing it to the parents' brain activity while watching a video unrelated to their children.

The mothers in the study, who were the children's primary caregivers, experienced a subconscious jump in their emotional processing. The heterosexual fathers, who were invested in childcare but were not the primary caregivers, showed enhanced activity in the areas of the brain used to interpret a baby’s nonverbal cues in order to decide on a response.

The 48 gay fathers, however, exhibited brain activity similar to both the mothers and other fathers. The study attributes this, in part, to the extra communication lines that gay fathers develop between the emotional and cognitive parts of their brains.  Spending time as a primary caregiver strengthens this connection — something that occurred only for the heterosexual fathers when mothers weren’t around, but which occurred consistently for gay dads, according to Time.

"Fathers' brains are very plastic," lead author of the study Ruth Feldman told Time. "When there are two fathers, their brains must recruit both networks, the emotional and cognitive, for optimal parenting."

This study adds to the growing body of evidence which indicates that parenting by gay people does not adversely affect children. As such, it could have a positive impact on securing adoption and equal parenting rights for gay fathers in the U.S. and beyond.

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