One of the more impressive changes I’ve seen in dad research in the time I’ve been writing about this is the science base for the ways that fatherhood changes men, biologically. The first in-depth introduction I received was Kyle Pruett’s talk at the 2005 At-Home Dad Convention. In it, he gave some details on the way various hormone levels fluctuate throughout pregnancy and infancy.My eyes were open.
But that’s only the start. This month brings fresh evidence of the ways that dads change over the course of childrearing: oxytocin (the so-called cuddle hormone), which has been long known to shoot up in new moms, shoots up just as much in dads. (This had been discussed before, but never published in a scientific journal.)
The research was straightforward. Eighty couples were followed for 6 months, their oxytocin levels checked a few times during that span. Levels of the hormone were similar in both men and women. What’s confusing is that we don’t really know why men release more oxytocin during this time. (It’s more clear in women, where lactation plans a part.)
What’s really interesting, though, is the conditions under which dads produce the most oxytocin. From the press release:
Finally, the findings revealed that oxytocin levels were associated with parent-specific styles of interaction. Oxytocin was higher in mothers who provided more affectionate parenting, such as more gazing at the infant, expression of positive affect, and affectionate touch. In fathers, oxytocin was increased with more stimulatory contact, encouragement of exploration, and direction of infant attention to objects.
No idea what it means, but it sure sounds like another argument in favor of the “activation parenting” theory, which holds that a crucial part of child development is parents who allow their kids some leeway to explore.
All food for thought. Any long-form journalists want to tackle this?