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Researchers at the US-based National Institutes of Health found in a new study that women are more responsive than men when they hear a crying baby.
Participants in the study were asked to 'let their mind drift' as they listened to a recordings of various sounds, including white noise interspersed with a baby crying.
Their brain images were then analysed and the findings showed that while the men's brains remained in the default 'drifting' mode, the women's were more likely to disengage, indicating that they focused their attention towards the sobbing child.
But while reactions were different according to gender, there was no variance in brain pattern between parents and childless participants.
Dr Marc Bornstein, from the National Institutes of Health, said that earlier studies showed that women feel more sympathy than men when they heard a child in distress.
“Previous studies have shown that, on an emotional level, men and women respond differently to the sound of an infant crying,” he said in a press release.
“Our findings indicate that men and women show marked differences in terms of attention as well.”
Professor Mark Dadds, from the School of Psychology at the University of NSW, told Mother & Baby that the findings might make “biological sense” in terms of specialisation.
“The tasks of a family group are many and complex, and sometimes nature assigns different skills and priorities to different family members. In this case, each gender might be ‘biologically’ cued to respond differently to stimuli such as crying.
When a family is formed, it may be that advantages are to be had by different genders dividing up the tasks, Professor Dadds explained.
"One person is finely tuned for child rearing, the other for detecting and protecting against threat.”
Professor Dadds added that, despite any specialisation, both gender parents can be motivated to form bonds with their off spring, and recent studies show that the hormone oxytocin has a large role in driving this bonding.
“Studies have shown that oxytocin occurs in both genders, but it may function differently in male and female brains.”