Study finds that fathers are necessary after all

BY Jim Byset

GROWING up in a fatherless home could permanently alter the brain structure of children making them angry and even violent, Canadian scientists have warned. According to new research, children raised only by a single mother are at a higher risk of developing ‘deviant behaviour,’ such as drug abuse.

Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, who undertook the study alongside colleagues at the medical faculty at McGill University in Montreal Q.C., said: “This is the first time research findings have shown that paternal deprivation during development affects the neurobiology of the offspring.”

The research was conducted using California mice (who, like humans, have monogamous relationships and raise their young together) and compared the social activity and brain structure of youngsters with two parents, to those growing up only with mothers.

According to Gobbi and her team the findings have direct relevance to human society. Francis Bambico, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, who contributed to the project, said: “Because we can control their environment, we can equalize factors that differ between them. Mice studies in the laboratory may therefore be clearer to interpret than human ones, where it is impossible to control all the influences during development.”

The brains of the fatherless mice developed in a different fashion, with the main changes seen as defects in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that regulates social and cognitive activity. The study concluded that mice raised without a father demonstrated signs of ‘abnormal social interactions’ and were much more aggressive than mice raised with both parents.

The prefrontal cortex as found in the human brain
The prefrontal cortex as found in the human brain

“The behavioural deficits we observed are consistent with human studies of children raised without a father,” Dr. Gobbi said. “These children have been shown to have an increased risk for deviant behaviour.” According to the report, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, daughters raised in fatherless families were at higher risk of anti-social behaviour and substance abuse than sons.

The mice’s behaviour was “consistent with studies in children raised without a father, highlighting an increased risk for deviant behaviour and criminal activity, substance abuse, impoverished educational performance and mental illness.”

The authors also observed that “[o]ur results emphasize the importance of the father during critical neurodevelopmental periods, and that father absence induces impairments in social behaviour that persist to adulthood.” Dr Gobbi said that the results suggested that both parents are essential for children’s mental health, and societal adaptation – and hoped the findings would encourage further research into the role of fathers in the lives of their children.


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