Opponents of same-sex couples raising children have long claimed that gender-normative behaviors and emotions classified as “matronly” or “paternal” are essential for proper childhood development, but new research scientifically proves that gay men who are new parents are capable of thinking in ways that women — specifically new mothers — are traditionally noted for.
The study, conducted in Israel and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, makes the case for a kind of gay “super dad.” Researchers measuring the brain activity of 89 new mothers and fathers watching their children noted that the gay fathers were producing particularly intriguing results — they were capable of feeling both things that heterosexual mothers and fathers were individually.
The research builds on that of neuropsychologist Ruth Feldman, who showed that brains of new mothers become hyper-reactive to their child’s emotional cues. To find out whether this was triggered by a biological factor, Feldman’s new study videotaped the 89 new subjects — both gay and straight — interacting with their infants at home:
In the 20 mothers in the study, all primary caregivers, watching their babies triggered heightened activity in the brain’s emotion-processing regions, particularly in a structure called the amygdala, which was five times more active than at baseline.
For the 21 heterosexual fathers – who were very involved in raising their baby but whose wives took the parenting lead – watching their infant increased activation of cognitive circuits, particularly a structure that interprets a baby’s cries and non-verbal cues. It is the region that knows which squirm means “I’m about to scream” and which means “change me.”
The 48 gay fathers raising children with their husbands seemed to be both mom and dad, brain-wise. Their emotional circuits were as active as those of mothers and the interpretive circuits showed the same extra activity as that of heterosexual fathers’.
The research also notes that the gay fathers who spent more time as their child’s primary caregiver shared a greater emotional bond with their child. “Fathers’ brains are very plastic,” Feldman said. “When there are two fathers, their brains must recruit both networks, the emotional and cognitive, for optimal parenting.”
If nothing else, this new research is bound to tear a giant hole in the homophobic logic that keeps countries like Russia from allowing same-sex couples to adopt.