Think back to when you were growing up. Ever feel like your sister got treated way differently than you?
You probably weren’t just being paranoid: Fathers respond differently to daughters than sons, new research published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience discovered.
In the study, researchers equipped 52 dads with small electronic devices that clipped on to their belts and randomly recorded sound for 50 seconds every nine minutes over a 48-hour period.
After analyzing the audio data, the researchers discovered some significant behavioral differences in fathers of daughters versus fathers of sons.
Fathers were more attentive and responsive to their daughters, sang more to them, expressed more empathy to them, and used more emotional language than dads of sons did.
So if you think your dad rushed more to your sister’s aid, listened to her stories more than yours, and fostered more of a back-and-forth with her, well, you might be on to something.
Fathers did engage in more rough play with their sons than their daughters, which is important because that kind of play may help young children learn how to regulate emotions, the researchers said in a press release.
Then, the researchers performed MRI scans to see whether the brains of dads behaved differently when interacting with sons versus daughters.
Fathers of daughters showed greater responses in the parts of their brains vital for visual processing, reward, and emotional regulation than dads of sons.
While the researchers don’t know for sure how these differences in parental behavior can affect a child long-term, it’s possible that increased engagement—as shown by dads of daughters—can help foster empathy.
And that may be why girls tend to show higher levels of empathy development than boys do, the researchers say.
So even if you’re dad did treat your sister differently, you can avoid the same fate with your own kids.
Being present and attentive, as well as being open to expressing emotions, can help your son develop healthy mentally, too. (As for daughters, don’t skip the roughhousing—that kind of play is just as important for her, too.)