The Paternal Transition Entails Neuroanatomic Adaptations that are Associated with the Father’s Brain Response to his Infant Cues


Background: The transition into fatherhood is a life-changing event that requires substantial psychological adaptations. In families that include a father figure, sensitive paternal behavior has been shown to positively impact the infant’s development. Yet, studies exploring the neuroanatomic adaptations of men in their transition into fatherhood are scarce. The present study used surface-based methods to reanalyze a previously published prospective magnetic resonance imaging dataset comprised of 20 first-time fathers (preconception-to-postpartum) and 17 childless men. We tested if the transition into fatherhood entailed changes in cortical volume, thickness, and area and whether these changes were related to 2 indicators of paternal experience. Specifically, we tested if such changes were associated with (1) the baby’s age and/or (2) the fathers’ brain activity in response to pictures of their babies compared with an unknown baby. Results indicated that first-time fathers exhibited a significant reduction in cortical volume and thickness of the precuneus. Moreover, higher volume reduction and cortical thinning were associated with stronger brain responses to pictures of their own baby in parental brain regions. This is the first study showing preconception-to-postpartum neuroanatomical adaptations in first-time fathers associated with the father’s brain response to cues of his infant.

Paternina-Die 2020