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Dad’s Gender Bias

August 2018

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Little boys are a ball of energy, and little girls are early talkers. Parents often describe the different sexes this way, but now new research suggests that fathers may be encouraging these generalizations.

They may not realize it, but fathers interact differently with their daughters than their sons. Anthropologists and psychologists at Emory University and the University of Arizona looked at brain scans and recorded 52 fathers as they interacted with their toddlers for two days. They found that the fathers were more attentive, sang to their daughters, used more emotion and more analytical language, such as “all,” “below” and “much” while interacting with their daughters. Fathers with daughters also used more words associated with the body, like “belly,” “fat” and “cheek.” Fathers with boys engaged in more rough-and-tumble play and used more words related to achievement and power, such as “best,” “win,” “super” and “top.”

Fathers using more emotional language can help children learn how to express their own feelings and develop empathy for others. This study suggests that fathers often use less of this language with boys. Analytical language was linked to academic success for girls and the body-related words may lead to girls paying more attention to their looks at an early age. Researchers suggest fathers be aware of how they are interacting with their sons and daughters. It can make all the difference in how they grow up.

The study notes that the cause of these differences in treatment is unknown. Is it that a father’s behavior can make their child act a certain way or that a child’s behavior can cause a father to act a certain way? Scientists have yet to learn.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.