The grandmother's bond with her grandchild is neural. It is backed by studies and complex biology. What is the science behind this bond? Read to know more.
When a grandmother first picks up her grandchild in her arms or when a grandchild bakes their favorite banana bread with their grandmother in the kitchen, those moments capture a deeper connection between them—literally, a neural bond.
The perception that grandmothers treat their grandkids more kindly and warmly than their children is not a recent one. But now that it's been tested, experts can confirm it.
A group of researchers, anthropologists, and neurologists in the Proceedings of the Royal Society performed a study in November 2021 to understand the tender bond and its complex biology.
All You Need To Know About The Study
Researchers at Emory University in Georgia, USA, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine 50 grandmothers who were shown images of their grandchildren ranging in the age from three to twelve.
They were also shown images of an unidentified adult, an adult parent, and an unidentified child as a controlled variable. In addition, the participants responded to questionnaires concerning their relationships with their grandchildren, including their level of involvement in caretaking activities.
The process was also adjusted and controlled for factors that could cause variation, like age and familiarity stimuli.
According to James K. Rilling, the lead author of this study, their findings revealed some enticing new information that advances our comprehension of how different types of empathy factor in grandmothers' relationships with their children as opposed to those with their grandchildren.
When they monitored grandmothers viewing the pictures of their grandchildren, they noticed the feelings they reflected. If the child was expressing joy and happiness, that is what the grandmother felt. If the child was somber or evoking distress, the grandmother could feel the same. It means that the images of their grandkid activate a part of their brain that is associated with emotional empathy.
The study also factors in the questionnaire from before. It highlights a positive interconnection between the level of involvement in the child’s caregiving and activation in brain areas linked to emotional empathy.
The Cute Factor
Babies look cute to people even without having any relation to them. It is because of the baby schema, which means a baby's cute appearance. Young children have probably developed the skills necessary to manipulate the mother's and grandmother's brains. It's possible that an older child won't inspire the same level of feeling because they lack the cute factor.
It adds a layer to the research because it enhances understanding of the dynamic between the grandmother and her grandchild, as used in this study. The grandkids’ same-sex parents evoked activation in areas of the brain relating to cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy links to an understanding at a more cognitive standard, like what someone is thinking or feeling and why, instead of eliciting the same feelings, as observed in emotional empathy.
These observations indicate that grandmothers may be developing these kinds of alternative mental viewpoints when dealing with their grandchildren vs their children.
Why this difference in feelings between viewing their child and viewing their grandchildren?
The answer to this emotional response lies in the freedom that grandparents now have compared to when they were parents.
Grandparents are free of time constraints, finances, and several other responsibilities. It allows them to enjoy the experience of nurturing their grandchildren more than they did while being parents.
What does it mean?
All the scientific jargon is a lot, of course. But let’s break it down to what it means at its core.
Science proves that the bond between a grandmother and her grandchild is something beyond what we merely label grandma’s love. Usually, fathers are given the title of the next-best caregiver after the mother, but in many cases, grandmothers may be the next best.
The functionality of a grandmother's brain may play a more integral role in our social lives and growth. Earlier, their brain was only monitored for medical reasons like understanding Alzheimer's. However, these new findings prove that there is much more that they contribute to neuroscience and the parental caregiving system. It also justifies that one needs a village to raise a child because humans are cooperative breeders.
This neural shot has revealed that the bond between a grandchild and their grandmother is more deeply intertwined than just a core memory of a warm embrace.