Researchers of a new study have found that fathers of toddler daughters tend to be more attentive to their children compared with fathers with sons.
Daughters And Sons Treated Differently By Fathers
Jennifer Mascaro, from Emory University in Atlanta, and colleagues monitored the interaction of fathers and their toddler children over a 48-hour period and found a striking difference with the way fathers spoke to and played with their children depending on the child's gender.
Fathers of girls spend about 60 percent more time attentively responding to their child than those with sons. They also spent about five times more whistling and singing with their daughter and talked more openly about emotions such as sadness.
Fathers of boys, on the other hand, were observed to spend about three times as long daily engaging in rough and tumble play with their children. They also tend to use more words linked to achievement such as "win," "best," and "proud."
The researchers also conducted MRI brain scans on the fathers who participated in the study and found that when dads of daughters saw the image of their child wearing happy, sad, or neutral expressions, the areas of their brain known to be associated with reward and emotion regulation lit up more compared with their counterparts with sons.
"We compare fathers of daughters and fathers of sons in terms of naturalistically observed everyday caregiving behavior and neural responses to child picture stimuli." the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience. "Results indicate that real-world paternal behavior and brain function differ as a function of child gender."
The researchers do not have a clear explanation as to why fathers treat their daughters and sons differently. They are unsure if the brain responses mean that fathers are hardwired through evolution or genetics to give different treatment to their kids based on gender of if it were societal norms that influence how dads treat their kids.
How Difference In Parental Treatments May Influence Personalities Of Girls And Boys
The difference in parental treatments of girls and boys, though, may have important influence on a child's personality.
Because fathers of daughters tend to use words linked to sad emotions such as "tears," "lonely," and "cry," scientists suggest this helps girls grow up to have more empathy compared with boys.
Fathers of daughters also use more language that are associated with the body such as "face," "fat," "belly," and "cheek." Researchers said that this innocent interaction may be possibly linked to body image problems that tend to more commonly occur in girls than boys.
The researchers also noted how fathers can be less attentive to the emotional needs of their sons and cited an unwanted consequence. Restricted emotion in men has been associated with lack of social intimacy and depression.
"The fact that fathers may actually be less attentive to the emotional needs of boys, perhaps despite their best intentions, is important to recognise," Mascaro said. "Validating emotions is good for everyone — not just daughters."