The verdict is in: Science says Grannies are good for you

WION Web Team
New Delhi, India Published: Nov 17, 2021, 07:55 AM(IST)

Representational image of a grandmother with her grandchild Photograph:( Others )

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Scientists think that this might be tied to children's cute appearance, also known as 'baby schema' in science, which many young species share to elicit positive caregiving responses from parents

Researchers have now confirmed what basically everyone already knew: Grandmothers are hardwired to care deeply about their grandchildren.

A new study published in the Royal Society B on Tuesday provides the first neural snapshot of intergenerational bonds.

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Scientists at Emory University in the US state of Georgia conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) on 50 grandmothers who were shown pictures of their grandchildren aged between three and 12 years old.

In addition to pictures of their grandchild, adults of the same sex as their grandchild and an unknown adult were shown as controls.

"They recruited areas of the brain that are involved with emotional empathy, and also areas of the brain that are involved in movement and motor simulation and preparation," James Rilling, an anthropologist and neuroscientist who led the study.

"When they're viewing these pictures of their grandchild, they're really feeling what the grandchild is feeling. So when the child is expressing joy, they're feeling that joy. When the children are expressing distress, they're feeling that distress."

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It is thought that the same motor-related regions of the brain light up in the brains of mothers and are related to their instinct to pick up and approach their children.

On the other hand, when the grandmothers viewed pictures of their adult children, there was greater activation of brain regions linked to cognitive empathy, the ability to understand another's feelings without becoming emotionally involved.

In Rilling's view, this might be tied to children's cute appearance, also known as "baby schema" in science, which many young species share to elicit positive caregiving responses from parents.

As opposed to other primates, humans are cooperative breeders, which means mothers get help rearing their children.  

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The purpose of this study was to explore what is known as the "grandmother hypothesis" in anthropology.

According to this theory, human females tend to live long lives well beyond their reproductive years in order to benefit their children and grandchildren. 

It has been demonstrated that this hypothesis holds true in societies, including the Hadza hunter-gatherers of northern Tanzania, where grandmothers provide nourishment for their grandchildren.

The phenomenon has also been observed in other animals, such as elephants and orcas, both of which unlike most mammals undergo menopause. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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