Study: Dads are more responsive to daughters than sons

Fathers are more attentive and responsive towards daughters as compared to sons.

Mum, have you ever observed that your husband is more responsive to your daughter as compared to your son? Or if you're a dad, do you feel that you pay more attention to your little princess than to your cute prince? Chances are, you're right. A recent study revealed that the child gender influences paternal behavior language and brain function.

In other words, brain scans observed fathers to be more attentive and responsive towards their daughters in comparison with their sons. 

Child gender influences paternal behavior language and brain function: the research

The study was published in the American Psychological Association's journal Behavioural Neuroscience.

As part of this study, for one week fathers wore recording devices on their belts. In this way the researchers could capture their conversations with their kids. Of the total 52 fathers, 30 had daughters while the other 22 had sons. 

In cases where fathers had more than one child, researchers focused only on one of the kids below two years of age. 

The co-author of this study, Jennifer Mascaro of Emory University says: "Ours is the first study to examine whether paternal neural responses differ for dads of sons compared with dads of daughters." She further explains that researchers have previously conducted studies on the subject of how fathers treat daughters and son differently. But these studies have depended on self-reporting and short laboratory observations. However, for the first time researchers looked at comparatively long term data from MRI scans. 

Here's what they observed

child gender influences paternal behavior language and brain function How child gender influences paternal behavior language and brain function? | Image: Screencapped from American Psychological Association

The observations included results related to language and neural responses. When talking to daughters, fathers used language reflecting sad emotions and the body. Also, the language was more likely analytical.

Mascaro shares: "These are pretty subtle differences and I think these findings are interesting because these aren’t differences you could glean from asking fathers about their interactions."

As part of the experiment, during MRI scans of dads, researchers showed them the images of an unknown adult, an unknown child and their own kid. They observed that fathers strongly responded to their daughters' smiling pictures and their sons' neutral expressions.

child gender influences paternal behavior language and brain function Dads are more attentive and responsive towards daughters | Image: file image

The survey also indicated that fathers who responded strongly to neutral expressions of their sons, engaged in roughhouse play with them. 

According to Mascaro: "This neural response was correlated with the amount of rough and tumble play they engaged in. It appears to be a complex picture in which fathers differentially interact with sons and daughters.I think it’s a very interesting possibility that attention to ambiguous facial expressions may be important for this type of play."

She further advises that: "If we treated our sons more like daughters in some respects, and our daughters more like sons in other respects, both sons and daughters would likely benefit by less gendered interactions."

Child gender influences paternal behavior language and brain function: Going beyond gender differences

The experiment sheds light on how to balance our behaviour when interacting with both daughters as well as sons.

child gender influences paternal behavior language and brain function Child gender influences paternal behavior language and brain function: tips | Image: file image

Here are a few tips for parents who want to focus on gender neutral upbringing.

Do not erase gender

Remember that gender neutrality is not erasing your child's gender. But it means that you should promote in them the thought that gender is not relevant in choosing from an array of things available to them. So, whether it's a career choice or their clothing, they choose freely without any burden of gender stereotypes.

Focus less on the gender

Start with making your child's gender a less important subject. So, for example, instead of saying, 'good girl' or 'good boy', you can say, 'good child'. This will help your child associate qualities to people and things in a gender neutral way.

Introduce them to sexism and stereotypes

Talk to your kids about sexism around them. Help them identify gender stereotypes. It is important for your child to understand that the gender differences spring from cultural stereotypes, and not inherent differences that they have. 

Keep gender out of toys and play

Ensure that you give them a mix of various toys. Play and toys are actually crucial in skill building in children. So, when you give your child specific toys based on gender, you are in a way depriving them of exploring other skills. That's why it is important to allow your little one to explore all types of toys.

Go beyond the pink and blue

There's a rainbow of colours available to your little one. Allow your child to explore all of them and then some. Make sure that knowingly or unknowingly, you are not promoting gender based colour choices in your child.

Let them engage with kids of other gender

Encourage your child to play with other genders as well. In their later life, this will help them interact with other people in a more balanced way. Also allow them to express freely. So that they can put forth their views in a confident and compassionate manner.

Use role models to inspire them

Introduce your child to role models who have broken gender stereotypes. They will learn, and may be also unlearn a lot of things when they have an inspiration.

Treat them as an individual first

Lastly, focus on your little one as an individual rather than a girl or boy. Treating them as individuals can be the best thing you can do to foster gender neutral upbringing. 

Source: FatherlyAmerican Psychological Association, Forbes

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