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Brain activity in gay dads similar to straight mothers

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Having a baby alters a woman's brain activity and this allows her to care for her child better. However, changes also apparently occur in the brains of gay men who raise adopted children suggesting that gay parents also go through changes to better adapt to parenthood.

In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 26, researchers wanted to find out why new mothers become extra sensitive to the sound of their child crying and other emotional cues so they recorded videos of 89 new parents interacting with their new baby. They also compared the brain activity of the parents' brains while watching the videos and while watching videos that their children were not in.

They observed that 20 of the mothers who were their child's primary caregivers had up to five times heightened brain activity in the amygdala structure of the brain, which is involved in the processing of emotions, when watching their babies compared to when they were watching videos that their children were in.

Twenty-one of the heterosexual fathers, on the other hand, who were involved in raising their babies but were not the primary caregivers, experienced heightened activity in the cognitive circuits of their brains which allowed them to know which of the baby's screams and movements means a need to feed or change diaper.

The 48 gay fathers who were raising kids with their husband, however, exhibited brain activities similar to both straight mothers and fathers. The region of their brain involved in emotional processing was as active as those of the mothers and their interpretive circuits had the same heightened activity as those of the heterosexual fathers.

Study author Ruth Feldman, from the Bar-Ilan University in Israel, explained that amygdala in women goes through changes because of their hormones. The amygdala in men only activates when the mother is not around but the amygdala in gay fathers works like those of the mothers all the time.

"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."

The findings of the study suggest that gay couples are as biologically fit for parenthood as straight couples and this could have an impact on current adoption practices. Many adoption agencies in the U.S. do not approve of same-sex couples and some states prohibit gay couples from adopting children.

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