MAY 15, 2020 3:21 PM PDT

Parents Change Each Other's Brain Activity When with Children

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Whether or not you raise children with your spouse can impact your brain activity. Researchers from Singapore have found that parent's brains respond differently to children depending on whether or not they are with their spouse.

For the study, the researchers examined brain activity in 24 pairs of Singaporean husbands and wives. They measured their brain activity in the prefrontal cortex (linked to complex behavioral and emotional states) while listening to a recording of a child crying both alone and each other's presence. 

In the end, they saw that when spouses listened to the recording together, their neurological responses were more similar than when apart. Randomizing the couples hearing the recording found that these similarities were only present for couples in a relationship however. 

As people who respond to stimuli with similar brain activity tend to be highly attuned to one another's emotions and behaviors, these results are not surprising.

"Our study indicates that when spouses are physically together, there is greater synchrony in their attentional and cognitive control mechanisms when parenting," says Gianluca Esposito, senior author of the study. 

"Since the brain response of parents may be shaped by the presence of the spouse, then it is likely that spouses who do not spend much time together while attending their children may find it harder to understand each other's viewpoint and have reduced ability to coordinate co-parenting responsibilities. This may undermine the quality of parental care in the long run."

Although parents may find it a 'waste of time' to attend to children together, the researchers say that their findings may prove its benefits. Esposito continued, "This finding is particularly useful for parents who are working from home during this 'circuit breaker' period, as families spend more time together at home as part of social distancing measures in the fight against COVID-19."

"The entire family interacting together for an extended period may be stressful, but parents can take this time to tune into each other's behavior and emotions while caring for their children."


Sources: Medical Xpress, Nature

About the Author
  • Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
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