Have you ever wondered why little boys seem to like trucks and little girls seem to like dolls? It may have to do with the way they are born. However, it may also have to do with how their parents treat them. To see if fathers interact differently with their sons than with their daughters, we recorded and studied the way dads spoke to and played with their kids. We also looked at how fathers reacted to their child’s different facial expressions by studying their brains in a scanner called a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.
We found that dads with daughters were more likely to sing to them, to respond to them if they cried out, and to talk with them about sad feelings and about the body. Dads with sons were more likely to do rough-and-tumble play and to talk about achievements. We also found that the brains of men with sons and the brains of men with daughters reacted differently when looking at pictures of their children making different emotional facial expressions. Our findings are important because the ways parents interact with their children can have lifelong effects.