As parenting clichés go, it’s almost a given that little girls have their dads wrapped around their fingers. We also acknowledge that mothers and sons have a special bond, too.

But when it comes to daughters, being a daddy’s girl has its perks. Underneath the tough fatherly exterior that chases boys away and does a 50-point check on the car before his daughter drives off is really a softie. Now there’s science to back it up.

While we know the relationship between a father and daughter can affect women well into adulthood, it turns out that it affects dads, too. A study published in Behavior Neuroscience delved into how this particular parent-child relationship affected the brain.

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta worked with data from 52 willing participants from the area who are fathers to either a boy or girl. In many cases, there were also other children in the household, but exchanges with toddlers in the family were of special interest.

They wore audio devices which recorded their interactions every 9 minutes. Focus was placed on language and behaviors like showing affection, laughing, playing, giving praise, or their response to things like crying.

Words used were broken down into several categories including emotions (sadness, happiness), drive (achievement), or social (family). Unique to this study was the use of MRI scans to view the brains of the dads as they were shown images of their children’s facial expressions and those of strangers, both children and adults.

Their brains’ responses to the images were recorded. Dopamine tended to spike when dads saw their daughter’s joyful facial expressions or neutral looks on their sons.

What the study revealed was that not only were dads with daughters more affectionate towards them, but they did things like sang to them and used more emotionally-driven words when dealing with girls. In contrast, dads tended to use “driven words” like “proud” or “win” when interacting with boys.

For fathers who had equally strong responses towards their sons’ neutral expressions, it was more common if they did a lot of roughhousing with their boys. One of the leads for the study, Dr. Jennifer Moscaro, attributes this to dads wanting to gauge their sons’ reactions to play and whether they are enjoying it or not.

Smiling, happy girls = smiling happy dads, and non-smiling, happy boys = happy dads. Could this indicate that there is gender-based parenting in terms of how boys are encouraged to express their emotions? According to Moscaro, it seems like a possibility, but that doesn’t make it a negative thing.

It simply means that fathers communicate differently with daughters than they do with sons. It also speaks to the rise of dad’s involvement in caregiving for all of their children compared to decades ago. Both girls and boys could benefit from a few healthy doses of sweetness from their parents as it helps them grow up to be emotionally intelligent.

Sure, we know daddies have a soft spot for their girls, but now science can see how that affection changes brain patterns. Moscaro stated that more research needs to be done in this field so that parents may have a better understanding of how their interactions with their kids have a long-term impact.

What are your thoughts on this study? How many daddy’s girls do you know? Do you know any fathers like the ones described in this study?

Washington Post