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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Study: Gay Dads Have Awesome Brains

Posted By on Wed, Jun 4, 2014 at 7:00 AM


People opposed to same-sex marriage often decry something along the lines of "Won't somebody think of the children!" The implication is that children without both a mother and father will be scarred or destroyed for life. Because every single person with hetero parents has turned out just fine, obviously.

One of the biggest detractors of same-sex marriage, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), is holding an anti-gay march on Washington D.C. this summer to defend its dying relevance outdated views on marriage. In its first talking point, NOM says: "Social science has demonstrated conclusively that kids do best when raised by both a loving mother and father in a stable marriage." And that "kids deserve better" than the "radical social experiment of redefining marriage and family into genderless institutions."

A new study on gay dads says otherwise, however.

Research has shown that new moms experience heightened brain activity after their children are born. And a new study comparing the brain scans of new moms, new straight dads, and new gay dads found that gay dads brains were working overtime, resembling the brain patterns of both mothers and fathers. Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that the straight moms tended to take the lead parenting role, exhibiting heightened brain activity in the emotional-processing regions while watching and playing with their kid, meaning they were more aware of crying and other emotional cues. Straight dads, taking the secondary parenting role, showed signs of heightened cognitive processing, which interprets nonverbal cues such as when a baby squirms, that means "I'm about to scream" or "change me."

But the gay dads experienced both the mothers' heightened emotional processes and the straight dads' cognitive ones, suggesting that gay dads' brains can and do integrate both parenting roles into one brain like gangbusters, as they say in science circles. Playing both mom and dad caused the gay dads' brains to integrate the heightened brain patterns of both genders. 

"Fathers' brains are very plastic," lead researcher and neuropsychologist Ruth Feldman said. "When there are two fathers, their brains must recruit both networks, the emotional and cognitive, for optimal parenting."

Of course, this is just one study in a sea of many, many, many, many studies that have proved same-sex parenting is just as good, if not better than hetero parenting. Thus far, the panoply of evidence hasn't much affected the talking points of detractors like NOM, the countless U.S. adoption agencies that will not work with same-sex couples, and the states that prohibit gay people from adopting, but hopefully studies like these will help to stem the tide on the beliefs people have regarding same-sex parenting.

We'd also be curious to see if the same brain change occurs with single parenting, i.e. if single moms become Super Moms in the brain sense. Until more evidence comes about, we'll be over here basking in the cuteness that is Neil Patrick Harris's family Halloween costumes.

Follow @annapulley on Twitter. She'll tweet you right.

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Anna Pulley


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