Saturday, September 10, 2022

Maternal Instinct is Not a Chauvinist Myth

 From Unherd:

There is a straightforward evolutionary explanation for the maternal bond: it increases the chance that young animals will survive until they are able to take care of themselves. It would be strange if humans were the only animal species for whom this were not the case. But nor is this bond wholly universal, or wholly automatic. It can be interrupted. There are anomalies, such as mothers across many animal species who sometimes kill their babies. In the human world, some women don’t want babies at all, or feel nothing after they’re born.

This, in turn, points us toward feminism’s favourite hunting-ground: the boundary between nature and nurture. For the truth is that maternal behaviour is both natural and social. In her 2021 book on “the science of moms”, Mom Genes, science writer Abigail Tucker cites studies that show new mothers are more sensitive to babies’ cries. We’re better at distinguishing cries of distress. We think about our babies more. And a great deal of this is primed during pregnancy, as gestation transforms women’s brains in distinctive ways.

Dads, meanwhile, also bond with their offspring. But they do so later, and more slowly: paternal interest ramps up about a year after birth. And developing it is conditional on contact with a baby. Tucker quotes a Michigan State University maternal behaviour researcher who states flatly that while fatherhood also changes men’s brains: “The magnitude [of hormonal change] that you see in a mother is nothing like you see in any person at any other time.” And as Tucker puts it, while new moms are hormonally primed to seek out experience with infants, dads need the experience to get the hormone hit: “To become a father, the first thing a guy has to do is stick around.” (Read more.)

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