Hormones and Mens’ Parenting Behaviour.

22 Mar 2016

What kind of dad are you?  Research is beginning to show that the kind of parent you are is to some extent controlled by a number of key hormones.

In the journal Hormones and Behaviour the anthropologist Alexandra Alvergne studied the level of the hormone testosterone in men’s saliva, and how this correlated with family behaviour.  On average, the higher the levels of testosterone in the saliva, the less time and money the man invested in their wives and children.

Another study, by Ruth Fieldman, reported to the Society for Research in Child Development in Denver, Colorado, indicated that when men become fathers they undergo biochemical changes which affect how they relate to their children.  The study looked at the hormone Oxytocin, also called ‘the cuddle hormone’.  Fieldman found that the levels of oxytocin raised after the birth of a child in both fathers and mothers.  Furthermore, the more oxytocin was present in the fathers, the more they were seen to play, bond and attach to their children, then men who had low levels of oxytocin.

What both these studies appear to show is that your parenting style has something to do with your biology.  Indeed this makes sense in terms of evolutionary theory, as “investment” in offspring could be seen to be an evolutionary relevant trait, and therefore mediated by biology.

Whether it is better, from an evolutionary perspective, to father many children and offer them poor support, or fewer children, and offer them more support, is an interesting backdrop to understanding men’s parenting preferences.  To reason from biology to morality, of course, is an example of what philosophers call ‘the naturalistic fallacy’.  However, some men, or so it might seem, are going to have to fight against their biology in order to become ‘responsible’ parents.


Phil Tyson PhD

Dr Phil Tyson is a mens' psychotherapist working in Manchester, UK and via SKYPE worldwide. He offers cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling and psychotherapy.

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