Aside from sex drive and libido, low testosterone has now been shown to affect a man’s parenting skills as well. The findings come from researchers at the University of Michigan where they observed that a crying child lowered testosterone levels in men. Furthermore, the relationship a man has with the child’s mother was a predictor of whether or not the man would be a nurturing father.
Social, emotional and cognitive development in children have been linked with a father’s responsiveness and sensitivity. Essentially, a positive father has been linked to a positive child.
First study author, Patty Kuo, said, “A better trigger assessment is their own baby crying. For parents, infant cries are strong stimuli and can often elicit multiple types of emotional responses, including empathy, annoyance or aggravation.”
Emotional responses play a role in hormone levels, for example, a crying baby may lower testosterone due to empathy, while aggravation can increase testosterone.
A total of 175 men were involved in the study. Their spouses were pregnant with their second child. Hormone tests based on saliva samples were conducted during interaction between the father and the new infant.
During brief trial separations from their fathers, the children clearly displayed distress and looked for their fathers, and when they were reunited they sought comfort from their fathers. This interaction was video recorded, and Kuo suggests that when fathers watch the distress of their child they empathize with them, which contributes to a decline in testosterone. On the other hand, if a father interprets a child’s crying as aggravation, then testosterone levels rise, which can cause a negative response to the infant.
A second task was assigned to measure parental behaviors. Three toys were involved in separate boxes along with an instructions card. Fathers had five minutes with each box to teach their child how to use the toy that was inside.
Kuo added, “We then observed whether the men were sensitive or intrusive with their infants during these interactions. Men with larger declines in testosterone during the separation task were more sensitive fathers during the interaction.”
Men’s testosterone levels only changed during the separation and not during the intimacy tasks. It’s suggested that this happens because the father is comforted by the child.
Another finding was that fathers reacted differently based on the child’s gender. Fathers of girls were more sensitive than fathers of boys.
Co-author Brenda Volling concluded, “We are not arguing that universal declines in testosterone will always be associated with ‘good fathering.’ Perhaps increases in men’s testosterone may be necessary to protect the infant from harm in some situations. We are just beginning to understand the complex relations between men’s hormones and fathering.”