Friday, June 30, 2006

This Is Your Brain on Fatherhood.

So apparently, a team of behavioral scientists at Randolph-Macon College have done some research involving multiple sets of male deer mice that seems to indicate that exposure to children creates fundamental chemical changes to your brain. For one thing, this seems to provide the first scientific support of the age-old t-shirt slogan "INSANITY IS HEREDITARY--YOU GET IT FROM YOUR KIDS." (Is there anything t-shirts can't teach us?)

More importantly, it highlights the fact that daddyhood is more than just flinging chromosomes in the general direction of a fertile egg: The researchers found that deer mice placed in close proximity to infant mice--even unrelated ones--experience surges of oxytocin, the so-called "cuddle hormone," and begin to exhibit nurturing behavior. (It's not clear whether this extended to buying the foster mice thousands of dollars of Thomas the Tank Engine toys.)

Even mice of a closely related species known for their anxiety in the presence of babies (nicknamed by the researchers the "Deadbeat Dad" mice) were found to have higher levels of oxytocin after continued infant exposure over a period of four days. Just like that Adam Sandler movie with the kid. Or that Hugh Grant movie with the kid. Or that Tom Selleck-Ted Danson-Steve Guttenberg movie with the kid. (Is there anything big-budget Hollywood comedies can't teach us?)

I have to admit that I never imagined being a father when I was young(er), although I guess I always assumed that it'd happen, somewhere along the line. When it did, it was later than I'd expected--pushed back by things that, at the time, seemed like bigger priorities.

But now that I'm a dad, it's hard for me to imagine anything that could possibly be more important. Maybe it's just the oxytocin talking, but I look at my son (hey! there he is in the upper corner of this website!) and I think, I want to move mountains for this kid. I want to give this child the world, teach him whatever I can teach him, raise him to be everything he can be, share the rest of my life with him, for as long as I'm still around...

It's such a powerful surge of emotion, it's not at all surprising that there's a chemical basis for it.

And it took a bunch of deer mice to show us the way.

Is there anything deer mice can't teach us?


Anonymous said...

It's been great witnessing this change in my husband... now a SAHD, his organization skills have grown exponentially! Is that from oxytocin? hehe ;)

Violet said...

Cool post. Oxytocin also helps breastfeeding mums get back to sleep during the night. Unfortunately this seems to stop working after about six months.

thisislarry said...

There is a great quote on parenting from Jon Stewart, the Daily Show guy, as interviewed in O magazine:

"When I look at Nathan [his boy], I think, I could kill someone for him. In fact, I could do it almost every day."

Lee Herrick said...

I like this post. As a new dad, I can relate!