Kids need dads, according to a neurobiological study published this month in the journal Cerebral Cortex. The absence of fathers during childhood may lead to impaired behavioral and social abilities, and brain defects, researchers at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Canada, found.
"This is the first time research findings have shown that paternal deprivation during development affects the neurobiology of the offspring," senior author Dr. Gabriella Gobbi told MUHC News.
Other studies have observed that children raised without fathers are more likely to demonstrate a number of risk factors, such as substance abuse. There are a large number of environmental factors, though, that could contribute to those risk factors, so previous studies have had difficulty demonstrating that the absence of fathers directly contributes to social and behavioral difficulties.
To better control the environment, the MUHC researchers studied the effects of fatherlessness on mice.
"Although we used mice, the findings are extremely relevant to humans," Gobbi said. "We used California mice which, like in some human populations, are monogamous and raise their offspring together."
"Because we can control their environment, we can equalize factors that differ between them," Dr. Francis Bambico added. "Mice studies in the laboratory may therefore be clearer to interpret than human ones, where it is impossible to control all the influences during development."
The researchers found that the mice raised without a father had abnormal social interactions and were more aggressive, compared to the mice raised with a father. The effects were stronger among daughters than sons.
Being raised without a father actually changed the brains of the test subjects. The research found defects in the brain's prefrontal cortex, which controls social and cognitive functions, of the fatherless mice.
Bambico and Gobbi were joined on the study, "Father Absence in the Monogamous California Mouse Impairs Social Behavior and Modifies Dopamine and Glutamate Synapses in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex," by Dr.'s Baptiste Lacoste and Patrick R. Hattan.