Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It marks the first to investigate grandmaternal brain function.“What jumps out in the data is the activation in areas of the brain associated with emotional empathy,” says James Rilling, Emory professor of anthropology and lead author of the study. “That really suggests that grandmothers are geared toward feeling what their grandchildren are feeling when they interact with them.
If their grandchild is smiling, they’re feeling the child’s joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they’re feeling the child’s pain and distress.” ADVERTISEMENT ADVERTISEMENT They also analyzed the brains of grandmothers while viewing pictures of their grown children. Researchers found that brain areas linked to cognitive empathy lit up rather than emotional empathy.
This data suggests the grandmother may be trying to understand their child’s thoughts or feelings, but not in a moving way. Age probably plays the most significant factor in these reactions.“Young children have likely evolved traits to be able to manipulate not just the maternal brain, but the grand maternal brain,” Rilling says. “An adult child doesn’t have the same cute ‘factor,’ so they may not elicit the same emotional response.”Minwoo Lee, a Ph.D.
candidate in Emory’s Department of Anthropology, and Amber Gonzalez, a former Emory research specialist, co-authored the study. ADVERTISEMENT Lee added she relates to the study since she spent a lot of time around her grandmothers. She has fond memories of them and recalls that they always seemed happy to see her.
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