Having a baby alters new mothers’ brain activity, researchers have found, and a new study adds the first evidence of such changes in the brains of gay men raising children they adopted or had through surrogacy, the Bangor Daily News, Time, Reuters and several other news outlets report.
The men’s pattern of brain activity resembles that of both new mothers and new fathers in the study, the article said. The research, reported on Monday, could feed into the debate over whether gay men should be allowed to adopt children. Many U.S. adoption agencies will not work with same-sex couples, and some states prohibit them from adopting.
The current study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted in Israel, and builds on work by neuropsychologist Ruth Feldman of Bar-Ilan University and others, who showed that the brains of new mothers become hyper-reactive to their child’s cries and other emotional cues, the Daily News reports. It was not clear if that pattern is a result of the hormonal and other changes that accompany pregnancy or a response to the experience of motherhood.
To find out, Feldman and her colleagues videotaped 89 new mothers and fathers interacting with their infants at home. They then measured the parents’ brain activity while watching the videos in an MRI tube, and again (to establish a baseline) while watching videos that their kids did not star in, the Daily News said.
In the 20 mothers in the study, all primary caregivers, watching their babies triggered heightened activity in the brain’s emotion-processing regions, particularly in a structure called the amygdala, which was five times more active than at baseline.
“These are regions that respond unconsciously to signs of an infants’ needs, and that derive deep emotional reward from seeing the baby,” Feldman was quoted as having said in the Bangor Daily News.