Is your mother warmer with her nieces than with you? A new study says to blame biology

You don’t just imagine it, according to a new study.

Unlike other primates, humans rely on each other to help raise their children, and often those offspring do better when they have other adults, like their grandmothers, involved in their lives. them, study lead author James Rilling, professor of anthropology and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta. This study shows that the importance of grandmothers can be rooted in a neurological aspect.

The researchers found that grandmothers who showed pictures of their grandchildren had neural responses in brain regions important for empathy and emotional motivation.

Research published by the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of B, worked with 50 elderly women who reported having a positive relationship with their grandchildren and a high degree of attachment to them.

The women had functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures the changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity, and were shown pictures of their grandchild, another child they did not know. know, an adult they don’t know, and the like. – the parent’s gender of their grandchild. For some it is their biological child, and for others it is their daughter or son-in-law.

Jodi Pawluski, neuroscientist and therapist in France, said: “This work points to the fact that there are important brain changes in members of the ‘village’ of child rearing. unrelated to research.

More emotional response to the grandchildren

Studies have examined maternal and paternal brain functions in the past, but this is one of our first glimpses of how grandmothers’ brains respond to their grandchildren, says Rilling.

“The study was motivated in part by the well-known ‘grandmother hypothesis’, which holds that life expectancy in postmenopausal women evolved due to the benefits that grandmothers can bestow on their grandchildren,” said Rilling. Rilling said by email.

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Anthropologist and biologist Sarah B. Hrdy, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, said: with the study, said.

According to the study, some of the findings were not surprising: Grandmothers reacted to looking at their grandchildren more than children they didn’t know.

Interestingly, paternal grandmothers showed that brain activity correlated with cognitive empathy when looking at their biological children and spouses rather than their grandchildren. When they look at their grandchildren, they show stronger emotional empathy than their own children.

“Emotional empathy is feeling the emotions that someone else is feeling. Cognitive empathy is understanding what someone is thinking or feeling and why,” says Rilling.

That could mean that while grandparents try to figure out how to understand their adult children’s emotions, they are more geared towards an emotional response when it comes to grandchildren.

“Not only does it show that the paternal brain is activated when rearing grandparents, it also shows that the parental brain region is activated at the end of life, or perhaps always activated. Once a mother,” Pawluski said. is always the mother.” “This supports and expands on what others have recently reported that there are ongoing effects of parenting on the brain as we age.”


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