Fatherly care can shape brain development and behavior in sons, study finds

University of Virginia scientists, led by Joshua Danoff, embarked on a study involving prairie voles to investigate the profound impact of attentive fathering on the development of offspring. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, their research unveiled that paternal care played a pivotal role in shaping the young rodents’ nervous systems, triggering changes in gene expression, and ultimately influencing their behavior. These findings align with existing scientific knowledge, which underscores the significance of emotional and social support in children’s lives, particularly among males, leading to healthier and extended lifespans.

The study, conducted within the laboratory of psychology professor Jess Connelly, shed light on the fascinating social monogamy of prairie voles, where both mothers and fathers participate in nurturing and safeguarding their young. This unique dynamic allowed researchers to delve into the profound effects of active paternal involvement on the development of offspring. Notably, the study revealed that male voles who experienced elevated levels of paternal care during their early stages of life exhibited heightened social responsiveness and distinct brain structures, specifically in regions that regulate the capacity for reward.

Furthermore, the research illuminated significant changes in gene expression among males raised by nurturing fathers, specifically affecting genes known to influence social behaviors in humans. Remarkably, the impact of attentive fathering extended beyond behavioral and genetic aspects. Both male and female voles who received enhanced paternal care displayed markers of slower aging, as indicated by specific biochemicals.

In essence, the study emphasizes the intricate interplay between environmental factors, such as paternal care, and physiological development, elucidating how these factors can contribute to altered aging processes and influence behavior.

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