Emory University
Bookmark and Share

Parenting across species

Story Photo

Ever watched a bear protecting its cub, a giraffe bending a tree limb down so its calf can eat the leaves, or a dog prodding a wayward pup to stay with his littermates, and been reminded of their human counterparts?

Human and animal parenting share many nervous system mechanisms, found Yerkes National Primate Research Center researchers Larry Young and James Rilling in a review article in Science about the biology of mammalian parenting. The same molecules that prepare the uterus for pregnancy, stimulate milk production, and initiate labor also activate specific neural pathways to motivate mothers to nurture, bond with, and protect their offspring. They also found that variation in parental nurturing can affect brain development, thus affecting future social behaviors.

"With this comprehensive review, we can see nervous system correlations across species that result in positive and negative parental care," Young says. The goal: to pinpoint and facilitate behaviors that will benefit (human) generations to come.

Email the editor