Parenting is an elusive art. Nobody feels like they’ve ‘cracked it’.

And yet, some people seem like naturals.

Cynics might say they’re faking it. In the past, scientists would have said they’d learned nurturing instincts from their own parents.

But a new study by Harvard University offers another explanation: they were born that way.

According to research published today, some people carry a ‘nurturing gene’, making them destined to be a good parent.

It is the first study to suggest that parenting differences lie in genes and not experience.

A new study from Harvard University has found that some people are born with a ‘nurturing’ gene that predetermines them to be better parents compared to those without it

Previously scientists believed that our parenting styles depended on how we were raised. For example, those who had attentive parents were expected to be attentive parents themselves.

The study, conducted at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used two species of mice: the deer mouse and the oldfield mouse.

Researchers created a behavioral assay to track the behavior of both males and females of each species.

It also measured how often they engaged in parental behavior such as building nests and licking and huddling their pups.

The data found that the females of both species were attentive mothers but the same didn’t hold true for the males.

Oldfield mice fathers are relatively involved in raising pups, as much as oldfield mothers, but deer mice fathers participated relatively little.

To test what impact those different parenting styles had, the team performed a cross-fostering experiment.

Oldfield mice parents raised deer mouse pups, and vice versa, and the parenting behavior of the pups was observed when they became parents themselves.

‘What we found was there’s no measurable effect based on who raises them,’ said Dr Hopi Hoekstra of Harvard University.

‘It’s all about who they are genetically. The other significant result here is that there are some regions that affect multiple traits, and others that have very specific effects.

‘For example, we found one region that affects licking, huddling, handling and retrieving, but another that affected only nest-building.’

The researchers looked at locating individual genes that might be linked with parental behaviors.

They studied the hypothalamus, the region of the brain known to be important in social behavior.

Almost immediately, one gene for the production of vasopressin (a hormone produced by nerve cells) jumped out at them.

To test whether vasopressin actually affected parental behavior, doses of the hormone were administered to male and female oldfield mice, which saw nest-building behavior in both dropped

For future research, the team would like to look at the neurological circuitry involved in parental behavior so they can target specific genes.

‘This gives us molecular handles to start understanding the circuitry much better,’ said co-author Dr Andres Bendesky.

‘We can see what is happening in the brain not in the abstract…but we can say vasopressin is going from this part of the hypothalamus to this other part of the brain, so we can see how the brain is organized.’


Fathers who fail to bond with their sons in the first three months could cause them lifelong behavioral problems, scientists said.

Loving contact with baby boys in their earliest days can help to produce a calmer, happier child by the age of one.

Although important for all children, it seems to be particularly important for boys to benefit from a strong paternal influence at a very early age, the researchers claimed.

Oxford University recruited 192 families from maternity units and experts filmed the mothers and fathers separately as they played with their children at home in different situations – looking at how caring or engaged they were.

The parents did psychological tests, while the children’s behavior was assessed examining whether they were fretful, disobedient, had tantrums or in the worst cases showed aggression by hitting and biting, said researchers.

But ‘at the other end of the scale children tended to have greater behavioral problems when their fathers were more remote and lost in their own thoughts, or when their fathers interacted less with them’.

The study found the three-month-olds with less engaged fathers were more likely to be in the 10 percent of children who displayed the beginnings of behavioral problems at one year old.

Ultimately Parenting is a combination of innate attributes not governed by science or environmental factors. Its an art that is as exclusive as possessing a gift similar to one from the deity Zeus to his son Hercules. However the vagaries of its application, timing and continuity is what stands the brilliant parents out from the struggling ones.

You might also like More from author

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.