Happy Father’s Day: The Psychology of Papas

When thinking about parents and children, most people — including psychological researchers — tend to focus on the characteristics and importance of the mother-child bond. However, in honor of Father’s Day, I think it’s about time to focus a little attention on the importance of Dads.

  • For over a decade, research has established that when mothers show their infants new things, they act in ways that will help their babies effectively learn about new behaviors. For example, mothers are more likely to be physically close, interactive, enthusiastic, and repetitive when teaching their babies how to use new toys or try new things than when teaching other adults, much like how people unintentionally slip into those nasal, high-pitched “baby voices” when speaking to infants. Well, a study published this year finally established that fathers tend to engage in just as much of this helpful, “infant-directed action” as mothers do. Although there are some minor differences (moms tend to be a bit more enthusiastic and emotionally expressive when showing their infants how to play with a new toy, whereas dads tend to show more increases in physical closeness), the similarities between Mom and Dad far outweigh the differences. So, fellow researchers, please give Dad some credit for his parenting!
  • There may be a hidden psychological benefit to being a “Daddy’s Girl.” Women with warm, supportive father-daughter relationships had lower cortisol levels and attenuated cortisol spikes when responding to a stressful life event that had nothing to do with their fathers or their families; those who reported rejecting, chaotic relationships with their fathers had higher cortisol levels and more sensitive cortisol reactions. In other words, women who had good relationships with their fathers had healthier, more adaptive responses to stressful situations in their everyday lives, even when those situations were completely unrelated to their families. If you’re close with your Dad, you may want to call him up and say “thanks” every time you don’t lose your cool during rush hour.
  • Do you think that the only things you inherited from Dad were his ears and his love for Woody Allen movies? Think again. If you did well in school, you may have to thank Dad for that as well — and not just because he taught you all of those valuable life lessons that helped you along the way. Even when controlling for level of education and IQ, you can predict a kid’s academic performance from how well his or her father did. Most of the potential explanations for this effect seem to revolve around socioeconomic factors, such as the father’s age, income, and educational expectations (teenage parenthood, low income, and low educational expectations are all riskier, as one might logically expect). However, the researchers suggest that the fact that this effect remains even when controlling for things like IQ means that interventions to improve academic outcomes in men can have long-lasting impacts for many successive generations.

To all of the Dads out there, I hope you had a wonderful day! And to one Dad in particular…

I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day!


Rutherford MD, & Przednowek M (2012). Fathers show modifications of infant-directed action similar to that of mothers. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 111 (3), 367-378 PMID: 22137205

Byrd-Craven J, Auer BJ, Granger DA, & Massey AR (2012). The father-daughter dance: the relationship between father-daughter relationship quality and daughters’ stress response. Journal of Family Psychology, 26 (1), 87-94 PMID: 22182338

Pears KC, Kim HK, Capaldi D, Kerr DC, & Fisher PA (2012). Father-Child Transmission of School Adjustment: A Prospective Intergenerational Study. Developmental psychology PMID: 22612433

5 responses to “Happy Father’s Day: The Psychology of Papas

  1. Thanks for your personal marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author.I will make certain to bookmark your blog and will often come back from now on. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great job, have a nice holiday weekend!

  2. Pingback: Happy Father’s Day: The Psychology of Papas | Science News | Scoop.it

  3. This article was very touching and informative. Never would i connect stress and fathers unless they are getting on your nerves lol. Stress is very difficult to cope with at times, especially in your example- rush hour also known as a daily hassle. I did read that men are less likely to be upset by negative events outside his family so if stress,emotion,attitutes,etc are inheritable I too thank my dad; it takes quite a bit of things to happen to make me and my siblings upset as well as my mom and DAD!

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