Until recently, the value of a father in rearing a child has not been documented in as many studies as the value of a mother.  A recent article, “Dads: How Important Are They?  New Research Highlights Fathers in Both Neurobiology and Behavior of Offspring,” on the Science Daily website reports that a study from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) indicate, “the absence of a father during critical growth periods, leads to impaired social and behavioral abilities in adults.”  

The study, done using mice, is the first to connect the absence of a father with social ability and to note its connection with brain changes in the offspring.  Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, a RI-MUHC researcher and an associate professor at the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University, sees the relevance of using mice in such a study to compare to humans.  She cites the fact that, like humans, mice are monogamous and that they raise their offspring together.  She also points out that using mice gives researchers the ability to control external factors that would not be possible with humans.

The study “compared the social behavior and brain anatomy of mice that had been raised with both parents to those who had been raised only by their mothers.”  The following outcomes were noted among mice that had been raised by their mothers only:

  • Had abnormal social interactions
  • Were more aggressive
  • Negative effects were stronger for female offspring than for their brothers
  • Female offspring raised without fathers were more sensitive to stimulant drug, amphetamine

The researchers note that these negative effects are the same that are observed in humans who are raised without a father.  They now believe that more study into the father’s role at critical stages of a child’s development is warranted, but the take-away is clear:  A father’s presence is important to a child’s mental health and well-being.