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Presence of spouse alters how parents' brains respond to stimuli from children (medicalxpress.com)
95 points by rbanffy 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments





Of course. This kind of converging brain activity is an important part of how empathy works: by inferring what another person's brain is doing and replicating that in our own brain, we feel what they feel, and this 'synchrony' lets us understand and respond to them. It's basically the closest thing we have to telepathy.

In a co-parenting situation, the activity you see is each parents' brains emulating both the child's brain and their own. That results in a higher degree of similarity than each co-parent on their own, because in that case they're only empathizing with one other person (the child).

You would see the same result in other highly emotional three-party situations; a co-parenting situation would just be a good way to trigger it.


I think it’s actually the fact that ‘roles‘ have generally been established once a couple has been together for a while, and when the couple is together in this case they are in execute-the-plan mode.

When it’s just one half of the couple, theres a realization that they have to fill both roles. The mental scavenging required to prioritize/sequence/execute a blend of familiar and unfamiliar actions is going to perturb brain activity.


It is actually other way round. I was more often without other person, so the only me situation was easier to execute and "plan". Other person presence inference sometimes requires more thinking or complications due to acting unpredictably.

Other person makes it easier in a sense that there are two hands and you can split kids. So you don't change diapers while watching other kid. But in terms of how usual situation is, how much cooperation and negotiation it requires, it requires more.


> Other person presence inference sometimes requires more thinking or complications due to acting unpredictably.

It's like solving a constraint satisfaction program where your spouse is an additional variable.

I wonder to what extent the problem solving facilities are more activated with the presence of the spouse.


Exactly. When we're used to alternate parenting and work, and rarely do "co-parenting" simultaneously, it can happen that both us assume the other is currently watching after the child, when neither is :-\

This isn't exclusive to couples though, is it?

We see this in situations involving co-workers and neighbors, friends and even strangers. There's the point-source stimulus and its first order effects we react to but it's mediated by the reactions we observe from those around us participating in the same experience resulting in second-order (and more) effects.

Isn't this effectively the psychology of crowds writ small?


I wonder what communication channels are most important. Maybe facial expression, body language, and breathing.

I wonder if the results show all of that is extremely important might it derail the work from home movement.

Maybe more likely it'd derail the work away from home movement ;) My maternal grandparents ran a farm, and I gather that they were quite the team.

My wife is much less anxious when I am around here. She's a kind of person who easily gets tensed and helpless when she comes across some stressful situation.

To change his all I've to do is just listen to her and offer her my view and usually she is able to fix all problems on her own.

I am one of the lucky people to have great wife who loves me so much.


Working from home definitely has its benefits. My wife and I can now, more often than not, look at each other and subtly grin when we are confronted with an absurd tantrum.

Usually these interactions with children raise the blood pressure throughout the day, but having both of us around definitely helps.


Might this just be the parents responding to the stimuli of each others presence? E.g let me think about whether or not he/she will pick them up or should I do it. It makes sense that both parents would think this. In the situation where they are alone, such a computation does not need to be done by the brain.

There is no way to actually characterize the thought processes using these imaging methods. No where does this implicate that the actual actions or thoughts specifically relating to the child are any different. This makes the conclusion much less interesting.


Well... yeah? Duh?

I definitely have different responses to my kids when my wife is around. I would be very surprised if the same was not true for her. Does anyone not?


The reverse is true too. Kids have different responses depending on which parent is present and if both are present.

Indeed, I find it fascinating seeing how differently our child will be with me, vs. when he's with his mother.

Of course there are differences because he speaks a different language to each of us, but even so his playing-behaviour is different, and I guess he's used to doing different things with us both.

(For example painting is something he associates with his mother, so he rarely wants to do that with me. While I'm the one who lets him choose music to listen to. As you'd expect for a three-year old he likes anything loud, Rammstein being a favourite, with The Prodigy being a good runner-up.)


Let him try some dramatic classical music sometime!

He's heard Holst's planets, Wagner's "ride of the valkyries", and other pieces. Some of them likes, but usually the kind of music he wants to hear has loud/regular drums and lots of guitar.

His reactions do amuse me though, I let him watch the video to Thriller before bedtime recently, and he thought that was awesome. But the Amy Winehouse video "Back To Black" was scary and he made me stop it!


Try Bolero

Part of what's useful about science is that when you study obvious things, sometimes you get a counterintuitive result. This time it confirmed the obvious, but that's not always true.

2AM crying... "Honey, it's your turn."

What's extremely different is how a toddler act when both parents are there vs. alone with one parent.

They often act out, try all the things, push the boundaries and run amok. One on one they're lovely.


depends on parenting style

if you have typical good cop, bad cop parents there will be obviously differences when each of them is alone and now when suddenly these styles get mixed,

I don't see that much reason for changes, if both parents are good cops or bad cops, of course they are never exactly same,

anyway the child will obviously try to push boundaries towards relaxed good cop standards when mixed since it gives child clearly more opportunities to play and child thinks it's under good cop protection and does things which would never do alone with bad cop

sadly I'm the bad cop mostly


The actual paper is Open Access and linked at the bottom of the article. After a cursory read (I can't read it thoroughly, there is far too much story telling in both the "introduction" and "discussion" sections), I suspect this is merely an artifact of bad statistics combined with Munchhausens Statistical Grid.

Fascinating. Who would expect that if parents are together they both feel under supervision of the other one and behave more similar according agreed rules vs alone without supervision of spouse.

Are all these researchers singles?

I have idea for another study, compare behavior of people supervised by CCTV in room vs unsupervised, results will be truly shocking (for some)!


I bet if you put a doctor/cop/peer/teacher/parent/total stranger next to the person it would change the stimuli as well.

We're social creatures and to suggest actions are atomic is simplistic. Even a small child knows to alter their behavior when authority figures or social unknowns are present.


The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain associated with executive functions, choosing to eat or not cheese cake. Choosing or not to do impulsivity or not. Of course being present with a wife you would react as such.

I bet you would see he same results with two police officers who have been partners for a while. It's a job and if you've got a partner then baby stimuli is basically the "lets get to work" bell.

not that sure about it, if they trust the partner he is less likely to report them for negligence, so I'd assume it's exactly opposite with long time partner vs strange new coworker, obviously with stranger you will more likely play it by the rules than with someone who won't snitch on you unless it happened before with long time partner

i think this applies to pretty much any line of work with internal control and repercussions


The surprising conclusion from this is..

Whenever we're in the presence of our significant other, our brains are constantly in a state of readiness to compromise or empathize in order to reach a common ground.


I wonder if they tried just having two, unrelated people physically together to establish the significance of parentage. What I mean to say is maybe they’re just measuring people perceiving the same thing?

Isn't that covered by the 3rd paragraph, or are you asking about something else?

> They found that when spouses were physically together, they showed higher similarities in brain responses to the stimuli than when they were separated. This effect was only found in true couples and not in randomly matched study participants.


[flagged]


Is "this" a self referential pointer to your own comment?

If not, perhaps you can explain a bit more about why you feel this article is incorrect and provide some sources?


Is "this" a self referential pointer to your own comment?

took me a minute to realize what you meant here. well played!


Wow, interesting. huge implications for understanding family sociology



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