Growing up without dad around can affect how your brain develops.
That’s one of the takeaways highlighted by a Wall Street Journal report on German biologist Anna Katharina Braun and other scientists. Their mission: Understand how single parent households affect children. Braun focuses on degus, small rodents tied to guinea pigs and chinchillas. The mother and father raise the degus in nature.
The Journal’s money quote:
When deprived of their father, the degu pups exhibit both short- and long-term changes in nerve-cell growth in different regions of the brain. Dr. Braun, director of the Institute of Biology at Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg, and her colleagues are also looking at how these physical changes affect offspring behavior.
Bottom line: Degu pups without fathers are more aggressive and impulsive than others with two parents.
While the story is likely to provoke a reaction the research is interesting and could put some real science behind social problems.
Here’s the abstract from the research that’s the basis of the Journal story:
Similar to maternal care, paternal care is a source of neonatal sensory stimulation, which in primates and rodents has been shown to be essential for developing structure and function of sensory cortices. The aim of our study in the biparental rodent Octodon degus was to assess the impact of paternal deprivation on dendritic and synaptic development in the somatosensory cortex. We (i) quantified the amount of paternal care in relation to total parental investment and (ii) compared dendritic and synaptic development of pyramidal neurons in the somatosensory cortex of animals raised by a single mother or by both parents. On the behavioral level we show that paternal care comprises 37% of total parent-offspring interactions, and that the somatosensory stimulation provided by the fathers primarily consists of huddling, licking/grooming, and playing. On the morphological level we found that, compared with offspring raised by both parents (mother and father), the father-deprived animals displayed significantly reduced spine numbers on the basal dendrites of pyramidal neurons. Furthermore, paternal deprivation induces hemispheric asymmetry of the dendritic morphology of somatosensory pyramidal neurons. Father-deprived animals show shorter and less complex basal dendrites in the left somatosensory cortex compared with the right hemisphere. These findings indicate that paternal deprivation results in delayed or retarded dendritic and synaptic development of somatosensory circuits.