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brain-763982-11A fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago showed that the absence of a father could have a very real impact on the brain development of children.

German biologist Anna Katharina Braun has been studying the brain development of animals typically raised by two-parents when raised by a single parent in order to better understand the brain development in human children. And if her results parallel human development at all, it is clear that fathers are not only necessary for proper emotional development. They are needed for proper brain development as well.

The study focused on degus, an animal related to guinea pigs and chinchillas, because fathers and mothers naturally raise their pups together. When the father was removed from the pups at birth, research indicates that the degu pups experienced negative physical changes in nerve-cell growth.

These alterations in nerve-cell growth were seen primarily in the growth of neuron branches known as dendrites, which conduct electrical signals between neurons. According to WSJ:

Dr. Braun’s group found that at 21 days, the fatherless animals had less dense dendritic spines compared to animals raised by both parents, though they “caught up” by day 90. However, the length of some types of dendrites was significantly shorter in some parts of the brain, even in adulthood, in fatherless animals.

These shorter dendrites were primarily noted in the regions of the brain that control emotional responses and decision-making. As a possible result, the study indicates, the fatherless degu pups “exhibit more aggressive and impulsive behavior than pups raised by two parents.”

According to Dr. Braun, “It just shows that parents are leaving footprints on the brain of their kids.”

Whether there truly are parallels between degu and human brain development is still to be seen. But the evidence seems to indicate what we already know: a child needs both a mother and a father for proper development.

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