Neural plasticity in fathers of human infants

Pilyoung Kim, Paola Rigo, Linda C. Mayes, Ruth Feldman, James F. Leckman, James E. Swain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Fathering plays an important role in infants' socioemotional and cognitive development. Previous studies have identified brain regions that are important for parenting behavior in human mothers. However, the neural basis of parenting in human fathers is largely unexplored. In the current longitudinal study, we investigated structural changes in fathers' brains during the first 4 months postpartum using voxel-based morphometry analysis. Biological fathers (n = 16) with full-term, healthy infants were scanned at 2-4 weeks postpartum (time 1) and at 12-16 weeks postpartum (time 2). Fathers exhibited increase in gray matter (GM) volume in several neural regions involved in parental motivation, including the hypothalamus, amygdala, striatum, and lateral prefrontal cortex. On the other hand, fathers exhibited decreases in GM volume in the orbitofrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and insula. The findings provide evidence for neural plasticity in fathers' brains. We also discuss the distinct patterns of associations among neural changes, postpartum mood symptoms, and parenting behaviors among fathers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)522-535
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by College of Human Ecology Graduate Research Grant & Esther Stocks, Ethel B. Waring, Helen Canon, Martha E. Foulk, Virginia F. Cutler, and Harold Feldman College of Human Ecology Fellowships, Cornell University (PK); the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (2005–273, RF, JFL), the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (JES, JFL); the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (RF, JES), the Michigan Institute for Clinical Health Research and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (JES: UL1TR000433), the National Institute of Mental Health (JFL: K05MH076273), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (LCM: 5K05DA020091), the German-Israeli Foundation (RF: 1114-101.4/2010), and the Associates of the Yale Child Study Center. The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest in the research.


  • Father
  • Neuroimaging
  • Parenting
  • Paternal brain
  • Postpartum


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