The bond between a grandmother and her grandchildren may be very important, but What happens in your brain when you look at them? Well, the zones that are activated are related to the emotional empathy, which suggests that they tend to feel the same way as little ones when interacting with them.
A team of scientists from the Emory university (United States) has scanned the brains of grandmothers as they looked at images of their young grandchildren to establish a neural snapshot of that intergenerational bond.
“What really stands out from the data is the activation in brain areas associated with emotional empathy “said James Rilling, Emory professor of anthropology and lead author of the study.
The activity of these brain areas “suggests that grandmothers are oriented to feel what their grandchildren feel when they interact with them “. If the child smiles she feels his joy and if he cries they feel his pain and anguish, Riling said.
The brain regions that are activated are not the same when the woman looks at the photo of her grandson or that of her adult son. In the latter case, there is greater activation in an area associated with the cognitive empathy.
This indicates that they may be trying to cognitively understand what their adult child is thinking or feeling and why, but not so much from an emotional point of view, indicates the research published by the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“Evidence is emerging in neuroscience for the existence of a global system of parental care in the brain “Rilling said, and the group wanted to study how grandmothers might fit into that pattern.
Humans are cooperative breeders And while we often assume that fathers are the most important caregivers alongside mothers, in some cases grandmothers are the main helper, he added.
In fact, the “grandmother hypothesis” posits that the reason women tend to live well beyond their reproductive age is because they provide evolutionary benefits to their offspring and grandchildren.
The team recruited 50 healthy women who completed a questionnaire with details about the time they spend with their grandchildren, the activities they do together, and their affection for them.
They also underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain function while viewing pictures of your grandchild, from an unknown child, from the father of the same sex as the grandchild, and from an unknown adult.
The results showed that, while viewing images of their grandchildren, most of the participants showed more activity in the brain areas related to emotional empathy and movement.
The grandmothers who more strongly activated the areas involved with cognitive empathy when viewing images of their grandson had indicated in the questionnaire that they wanted greater participation in the care of the child.
Comparing the data with a previous study of parents looking at pictures of their children, grandmothers, on average, activated with stronger regions related to emotional empathy and motivation.
Riling considered that these results “add to the evidence that there appears to be a global parental care system in the brain, and that the responses of grandmothers to their grandchildren are assigned to him. ”
The study opens the door to other questions and it would be interesting to also study the grandparents neuroscience and how your brain functions can differ between cultures, according to the authors.