Ever wondered why dads seem to treat their daughters differently than their sons, or why the expression “daddy’s little girl” rings true on many occasions, as it often has in the past? A new study may have the answer, as it suggests that fathers of toddler daughters tend to be more hands-on when dealing with their child’s needs, as opposed to fathers of toddler sons.
According to a new study published in the American Psychological Association’s Behavioral Neuroscience journal, fathers do have a tendency to engage their children in different ways, depending on their gender. Citing said study, Fox 25 Boston wrote that fathers of male toddlers were more involved in what is known as rough-and-tumble play, while using words that related to achievement. But it was also revealed that fathers treated their daughters differently, with more analytical language used when talking to their young daughters.
Jennifer Mascaro, the lead researcher from Emory University, observed that this could be dangerous, especially since fathers of daughters were more responsive than fathers of sons when their children cried out for them.
“If the child cries out or asks for Dad, fathers of daughters responded to that more than did fathers of sons. We should be aware of how unconscious notions of gender can play into the way we treat even very young children.”
A separate report from GlobalNews.ca took a look at how Mascaro conducted her rather peculiar, yet revealing study on how dads treat daughters differently. For the purposes of the study, she observed 52 fathers of toddlers, 30 with young daughters and 22 with young sons, all based in the Atlanta area. The fathers were monitored by means of a tiny computer attached to their belts, and this gadget would activate every nine minutes, recording conversations over a two-day period.
Given the good deal of subconscious observations Mascaro made, she added in her statement that it was easy for the device’s wearers to forget they had it on and that it would be tracking their language for purposes of the study. She observed that the fathers acted “shockingly normal,” and even got to the point of asking themselves the chances that the device was attached to their belts as it should be.
In any case, the subjects were asked to charge the device in their child’s room each evening, also allowing Mascaro to keep track of what they said at night.
One classic example of how the dads treated their daughters differently came in the form of the language they used. The study revealed that fathers dealing with toddler sons would use “achievement-related” words such as proud, win, and top, while dads with toddler daughters would conversely use “analytical” words like all, below, and much. Analytical language, Mascaro wrote, is usually connected to a higher chance of a child getting good grades and performing well in school.
In addition to the differences in language, dads with young sons played with their kids more often, while dads with young daughters were observed to be more likely to sing to them, and even more likely to share their emotions and express sadness. Fathers with daughters also referenced their kids’ body parts in speech more often, which is interesting, as research has shown girls are more likely than boys to suffer from body dissatisfaction issues in adolescence.
While the study offered some fascinating evidence to back up the belief that dads treat their daughters differently than their sons, it didn’t offer any exact reasons as to why this is the case. But the study also did reveal some MRI test results, where the areas of a father’s brain relating to reward and emotion regulation were more active in those who had daughters. This may, or may not suggest that fathers are “hardwired through genetics or evolution” to be more hands-on and emotional with their daughters and more likely to roughhouse or emphasize achievement with their sons.
Study lead Mascaro suggested that dads shouldn’t always treat their daughters differently, as they may also benefit from rough-and-tumble play. Likewise, fathers are also recommended to be more open with their feelings to their sons, as failure to do so may lead to the sons suffering from a lack of empathy when they grow up.
“Recognizing points of bias are often the first step in addressing them, and so the observation that we may talk about emotions less with boys could serve as a reminder to help all children, girls and boys, identify and label their emotions,” said Mascaro, as quoted by NBC News.
[Featured Image by Andrew Angelov/Shutterstock]