How Having a Girl Changes a Father's Brain

Yep, your daughter is destined to be a daddy's girl.
ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
May 2017
Dad playing dress up with his baby girl

If your baby girl already seems to have dad wrapped around her finger, know that science just proved she has an advantage. Brain scans show dads respond differently to daughters than they do to sons.

Research published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Behavioral Neuroscience shows that overall, fathers of toddlers girls are more attentive to their needs than fathers of toddler boys, inside and outside of the lab.

In the lab:

MRIs demonstrated fathers had a greater response to photos of their daughters’ happy facial expressions than fathers of sons.

At home:

After outfitting 52 dads with recorders to wear at home, researchers found that fathers of girls also sang to them more and spoke more openly about emotions. Little boys, on the other hand, were the recipients of more rough-and-tumble play.

“If the child cries out or asks for dad, fathers of daughters responded to that more than did fathers of sons,” says lead researcher Jennifer Mascaro, PhD, of Emory University. “We should be aware of how unconscious notions of gender can play into the way we treat even very young children.”

Researchers add that it’s unclear whether dads are genetically wired to be more responsive to daughters, or if they’re conforming to social norms about gender. Either way, researchers don’t suggest that fathers alter this behavior towards daughters; it can help girls cultivate empathy. They do suggest, however, that fathers take a similar approach to raising sons.

“The fact that fathers may actually be less attentive to the emotional needs of boys, perhaps despite their best intentions, is important to recognize,” Mascari says. "Most dads are trying to do the best they can and do all the things they can to help their kids succeed, but it’s important to understand how their interactions with their children might be subtly biased based on gender.”

The Heartwarming Reason Why This Dad Constantly Cleans His Wedding Ring

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
12/07/2018

Treating Dad Like a Babysitter Is a Lose-Lose for Both Parents

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
01/24/2019

Pat Dad on the Back for Being a Good Parent, but Remember to Tell Mom Too

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
02/08/2019

5 Amazing, Inspiring Dads

Elena Donovan Mauer

Women’s Unpaid Labor Is Globally Worth $10.9 Trillion, Report Says

Nehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
03/06/2020

Dad Nails Advice on How Partners Can Support Breastfeeding Moms

Laurie Ulster
Contributing Writer
Published
09/16/2019

Does Your State Support Working Dads?

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor

Women Are Judged More Than Men for Having a Messy House, Study Shows

Stephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
06/11/2019

Dad Has No Idea He Ran Over His Toddler

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
09/15/2015

Dad Turns 4-Month-Old Son Into His Very Own Elf on the Shelf

Nicole Gallucci
Intern
Published
12/17/2015

Science Explains How Dads Learn to Bond With Baby

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
02/17/2017