These staggering statistics have led researchers to wonder if it is still important for both parents to raise a child.
Many studies have outlined the value of a mother, but few have clearly defined the importance of a father, until now.
New findings from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) show that the absence of a father during critical growth periods can lead to impaired social and behavioral abilities in adults.
This research, which was conducted using mice, is found in the journal Cerebral Cortex. It is the first study to link father absenteeism with social attributes and to correlate these with physical changes in the brain.
“Although we used mice, the findings are extremely relevant to humans,” said senior author Dr. Gabriella Gobbi. “We used California mice which, like in some human populations, are monogamous and raise their offspring together.”
“Because we can control their environment, we can equalize factors that differ between them,” said first author Francis Bambico, Ph.D.
“Mice studies in the laboratory may therefore be clearer to interpret than human ones, where it is impossible to control all the influences during development.”
Gobbi and her colleagues compared the social behavior and brain anatomy of mice that had been raised with both parents to those that had been raised only by their mothers.
Mice raised without a father had abnormal social interactions and were more aggressive than counterparts raised with both parents.
These effects were stronger for female offspring than for their brothers. Females raised without fathers also had a greater sensitivity to stimulant drugs.
“The behavioral deficits we observed are consistent with human studies of children raised without a father,” said Gobbi, who is also a psychiatrist at the MUHC.
“These children have been shown to have an increased risk for deviant behavior and in particular, girls have been shown to be at risk for substance abuse. This suggests that these mice are a good model for understanding how these effects arise in humans.”
In pups deprived of fathers, Gobbi’s team also identified defects in the mouse prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that helps control social and cognitive activity, which is linked to the behavioral deficits.
“This is the first time research findings have shown that paternal deprivation during development affects the neurobiology of the offspring,” said Gobbi.
Source: McGill University Health Centre