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Number of Parents Linked to Brain Growth, Study Reports

Update Date: May 02, 2013 09:54 AM EDT

Being raised in one single household as opposed to two can have different effects on the development of young children observed through personality traits. Even though nothing is set in stone, researchers have studied the trends and behaviors of people who were raised with different amounts of parents or guardians. In animals, researchers have found that when offspring are raised under stressful environments, they are more likely to grow up to be hyper-vigilant, whereas offspring that are raised by nurturing parents tend to be more resilient. In a new study, researchers aimed to find the effects of the different forms of parenting on early brain growth and development. The researchers from the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) experimented on mouse models and discovered differences in nerve growth in both males and females under multiple parenting situations.

The research team took mice that were eight-weeks-old and placed them into three different groups. The first group consisted of only the impregnated mother who would have to raise her litter on her own. The second group was made up of impregnated mothers with a virgin female mouse that would ideally help raise the pups. In the last group, female mice were placed in the same cages as their litters' fathers, creating the environment of a two parent household. After injecting the mice with a dye that would allow the experimenters to track the growth of new neurons, the researchers waited until the mice were weaned before putting them through a series of tests that measured memory, cognitive and social skills, and fear responses.

The researchers found that the mice raised under a two parent household had boosted nerve growth in the dentate gyrus, which contributes to hippocampal formation and memory development. More interestingly, the researchers discovered that male mice in particular seem to benefit the most from being raised by both parents. The researchers found that female mice that were raised by one or two parents managed to develop the same amount of nerve growth. Female mice also had more nerve growth under a one parent household when compared male mice living under the same conditions and their nerve growth seemed to be concentrated in the region known as the corpus callosum, which is responsible for connecting both sides of the brain in tasks that require balance, attention, and arousal. Female mice in general performed better than male mice. The researchers also found that the offspring of mice raised under two parent households seemed to be more developed cognitively as well.

Although this study was done in mice and the researchers observed nurture through the means of licking and grooming, the findings do suggest that being raised under different environments can in fact have a biologically impact on young children.

The study was published in PLoS ONE.

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