May 29, 2017 2:21 pm

Here’s how dads treat daughters differently than sons, according to scientists

New research from UBC concludes that one of the keys to a daughter’s success is her father sharing the household chores. That is, dads who help out around the house are more likely to raise daughters who head into less traditional, higher- paying careers. Tanya Beja explains.

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Dads may not realize it, but they don’t treat their sons and daughters the same way, according to a new study.

Turns out, fathers are more attentive and responsive to their young daughters’ cries compared to their sons and sing more to their little girls while roughhousing with their boys.

But they also use words like proud, win and top, with their sons more whereas daughters hear words like all, below and much.

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These are unconscious and subtle disparities coming from the patriarch of families, but they have lingering effects on child development, scientists out of Emory University are warning.

“Most dads are trying to do the best they can and do all the things they can to help their kids succeed, but it’s important to understand how their interactions with their children might be subtly biased based on gender,” Dr. Jennifer Mascaro, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

“We should be aware of how unconscious notions of gender can play into the way we treat even very young children,” Mascaro said.

READ MORE: Want your daughter to break barriers? Dads should do chores, study suggests

In her novel research, Mascaro worked with 52 fathers of toddlers – 30 girls and 22 boys – in the Atlanta area. For two days, the dads wore a small computer that clipped onto their belts.

The device would turn on every nine minutes to record sounds during the 48-hour period.

“People act shockingly normal when they are wearing it. They kind of forget they are wearing it or they say to themselves, what are the odds it’s on right now,” Mascaro said.

The fathers were even told to charge the device in their child’s room at night, so any nighttime interactions were recorded, too.

Mascaro learned there were there were a handful of ways dads treated daughters differently than sons.

READ MORE: How a father’s diet, lifestyle affect his baby’s healthy development

Fathers sang more to their daughters and even opened up about emotions, such as sadness. This could be because they’re more “accepting” of girls’ feelings over boys’, the study suggested.

Fathers would play with their boys more, though, and used more “achievement-related” language with words like proud, win and top. The researchers noticed the dads used “analytical” language with their daughters, with words like all, below and much topping the vocabulary list. Analytical language has been tied to future academic success, the study notes.

The researchers even conducted MRI brain scans on the dads. Fathers looked at images of adults and kids, along with their own child wearing happy, sad or neutral facial expressions.

When dads saw images of their daughters – happy or sad – the areas of the brain tied to reward and emotion regulation lit up more compared to dads with sons.

READ MORE: Reality check – Do babies inherit junk food addictions from their moms?

So why are there differences? The researchers aren’t sure.

They couldn’t tell if brain responses meant dads are hardwired through genetics or evolution to treat their kids differently or if these were societal norms influencing them.

But there are some ramifications: if dads aren’t talking to sons about feelings as much, little boys could have less empathy growing up, Mascaro said.

Dads should also take up more rough-and-tumble play with their daughters, too, she suggested.

Mascaro’s full findings were published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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