Study Reveals How Becoming A Father Can Boost A Man's Brain Power

Humans have known for tens of thousands of years that having a baby changes your life. It has been widely acknowledged that mothers, in particular, undergo many changes physically, hormonally, emotionally, and mentally. Several studies have looked at how a woman's brain changes during pregnancy, after giving birth, and while raising a child, including a 2014 study in Nature Neuroscience that showed striking changes in women's brains during their first pregnancies. These shifts include reductions in the volume of gray matter that persist for at least two years after giving birth to their first child. 

Now, a new study reveals how becoming a father can boost a man's brain power. The study, published in Cerebral Cortex, shows that men's brains change in cortical and subcortical volume, cortical thickness, and surface area after taking on fatherly duties. Unlike women, whose brain changes are due to the physical stimuli of pregnancy, researchers think the brain changes in men are likely due to enhanced neuroplasticity (via U.S. News World and Report).

Brain changes include gray matter reduction

"You think you're moving into this new life stage, the brain is going to grow," Darby Saxbe, senior author of the study, told HealthDay News. However, the study showed reductions in gray matter volume, especially in parts of the cortex that control visual processing and the brain's default mode network. This network is involved in memory recall, future planning, and empathy. 

Women's brains also show a loss of gray matter, including in the hippocampus, the region associated with memory. However, these changes don't reflect a loss of brain power. Science says researchers think this loss of gray matter indicates the brain streamlining itself to become more efficient and adept at specialized functions. Although the loss of gray matter in men was less remarkable, it's significant that these changes occurred without the influence of pregnancy. Dr. Alex Leow, professor of psychiatry and bioengineering at the University of Illinois Chicago, is not surprised that changes happened in the default mode network (via HealthDay News). 

Self-contemplation is a primary function of the default mode network, and a person's focus changes depending on which part of their life they are experiencing."It's a very different kind of reflection," Dr. Leow told the publication. "And I think in that sense, it makes a lot of sense for the primary part of the brain to be affected being the default mode network."