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Is there a paternal brain? Insights from a new systematic review of literature just published

While we tend to identify - more or less implicitely - parents with mothers, fathers are nowadays more and more involved in both direct and indirect caregiving with children. From Picasso's "Mother and child" to Guaguin's "La Orana Maria", from Renoir's "Child with toys" to Klimt's "The three ages of woman" human artistic productions are plenty of representations of mothers and children, with little space for men. Exceptions to this maternal primacy is the description of the last goodbye between Ettore and Astianatte in Omero's Iliade, a unique masterpiece image of an involved and caring father.

Today, fathers are more and more involved in direct caregiving of their children. For example, from 1965 to 2018 the time spent caregiving by men has triplicated in the USA and the number of men who consider paternal identity as a key for their psychological identity has largely grown. In the animal kingdom, the presence of an involved father is not so common. Only 3-to-5% of mammals are bi-parental; nonetheless, when direct fathering is present we can also observe increased species survival rate, reduced death of pups, increased number of pups, and speed-up pups' growth. Additionally, in rodents such as the peromiscus polionotus and the peromiscus maniculatus, 8 out of 12 genomic regions involved in the control of parental behavior are sex-specific.

Not surprisingly, the question of specific underpinnings - in the human paternal brain - of caregiving attitudes and acts in men is increasingly investigated. We have summarized the available evidence in a recent paper published in Brain Sciences. Here, we suggest that at least three areas contribute to the emergence of paternal caregiving in men: a mentalizing network, an embodied simulation network, and an emotion regulation network. This tripartite paternal brain ensemble has been recently suggested also by Ruth Feldman and is further completed by additional brain areas that activates in fathers in response to infant-related auditory and visual stimuli. Thus, it is possible to hypothesize that humans have evolved a brain that is especially sensitive to infants and children and this apply to women and men who are involved in direct caregiving, probably independently from gender.


If you want to know more about this topic, download and read the paper on Brain Sciences!

Full citation of this paper: Provenzi, L., Lindstedt, J., De Coen, K., Gasparini, L., Peruzzo, D., Grumi, S., ... & Ahlqvist-Björkroth, S. (2021). The Paternal Brain in Action: A Review of Human Fathers’ fMRI Brain Responses to Child-Related Stimuli. Brain Sciences, 11(6), 816. Doi:

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