A new study by researchers in Israel shows that the brain of gay men who have adopted a child alters, like a new mother’s brain does.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, built off of work by neuropsychologists that showed new mothers become hyper-reactive to their own child’s cries and emotional cues.
The study, however, left out whether or not the brain altering of new mothers is because of their pregnancy or their response to motherhood.
To find out, 89 new mothers and fathers were taped at home interacting with their infants and their brain activity was measured. Next, they measured the parents’ brain activity watching videos of other children.
All 20 mothers in the study were primary caregivers, and each had a heightened brain activity in the emotion-processing region when watching their own children.
“These are the regions that respond unconsciously to signs of an infants’ needs, and that derive deep emotional reward from seeing the baby,” neuropsychologist Ruth Feldman said.
Of the 21 fathers, all very involved in taking care of the baby but whose wives took the role as lead parent, had increased activity in the cognitive area, mostly the part that interprets their baby’s cries and non-verbal cues.
Forty-eight gay fathers were also measured and it was found their emotional circuits represented both the straight male and female’s circuits. In fact, in the gay fathers but not the heterosexual ones, it was found that the brain had more communication lines between emotional and cognitive areas. The longer the male was the primary caregiver, the greater the lines connected.
This new research will be able to work into the debate of allowing gay men to adopt children. Currently, many agencies in the United States don’t allow same-sex couples to adopt.
“Fathers’ brains are very plastic,” Feldman said. “When there are two fathers, their brains must recruit both networks, the emotional and cognitive, for optimal parenting.”