Everyone knows that having a child changes your life.
But did you know that it also physically changes a parents’ brain? And in the case of fathers, that this might lead to them becoming less creative?
In a recently published research paper called Neural plasticity in fathers of human infants, 16 fathers (7 of whom were first-time fathers) were put into an MRI brain scanner twice: once between 2-4 weeks after the birth of their child, and again 12 – 16 weeks afterwards.
The difference between the two scans could then be used to calculate changes in brain volume across different brain regions. And what they found was surprising.
Increases in brain regions associated with safety and planning
There was an increase in brain volume in several brain regions including the striatum (involved in reward processing, among other functions), hypothalamus (hormonal control), amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC; involved in emotional processing), and the lateral pre-frontal cortex (PFC; involved in memory and decision making).
This is interesting because while some of the brain regions mentioned here have been shown to be involved in certain creative activities (especially moments of insight being associated with activation of the ACC: Sources 2016, 2010, 2010) many of the other brain networks mentioned here are related to memory and decision making. As we have previously seen, the brain prefers to use memory than use up resources being creative. And the brain also needs to inhibit its decision making networks in order to be spontaneous.
This all makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, as fathers are responsible for the safety of their children and therefore the brain networks with a focus on keeping stability and reducing danger would be used more. And if a brain begins using these networks more after the birth, they will network together more strongly, making them even more efficient and preferred by the brain.
Decreases in the default mode network
The second interesting result from the research was which parts of the brain actually seemed to reduce in size.
The regions displaying reduced grey matter volume included medial pre-frontal cortex, post-central sulcus, precuneus, and inferior parietal cortex, all of which are considered part of the “default mode network”.
The default mode network is a series of interconnected networks that become more active when we are not focussed on anything in particular, such as when we are daydreaming. And these networks of the brain has been shown as important for the development of divergent creative ideas (Source 2013, 2014).
So having a child increases the volume of the parts of the brain where a father can plan, form emotional bonds and be protective, as well as decreasing the parts of the brain which lead to original ideas.
Just another example of why it is so important to understand how creativity actually works. Because even though these changes may have happened in the brain, it doesn’t mean you are stuck being less creative. Check out this list of 16 things you can do in order to improve your creativity.
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