Infants Develop Stronger Brains When Dad Frequently Engages With Them, Study Finds

LONDON — Dads, take note: actively engaging with your child while they’re an infant is linked to improved cognitive development in their later years, a new study finds.

Researchers at Oxford University, King’s College London, and Imperial College London conducted a study in which father-infant interaction was examined at both three months and two years of age among 128 pairs of babies and dads.

Dad holding infant
Infants who get plenty of attention from dad during their first few months of life show greater cognitive and learning development, a new study finds.

It was found that infants who received active engagement from their fathers during their first three months of life demonstrated better results on cognitive tests at age two.  

Even as early as three months, these father-child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later,” says lead researcher Paul Ramchandani, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, in a press release. “There’s something probably quite meaningful for later development, and that really hasn’t been shown much before.”

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To determine the strength of interaction, the researchers recorded video clips of parents interacting and playing with their children at the three-month point, followed by them reading a book to their offspring at age two.

The researchers, all of whom were trained to know what to look for, examined the interactions, giving the fathers a grade for their efforts.

Later, the cognitive development of the same infants as two-year-olds was measured through the application of the Bayley mental development index (MDI), which tests for skills such as the ability to recognize shapes and colors.

After controlling for income and the father’s age, it was concluded that there was a positive correlation between fatherly engagement and test results, regardless of the gender of the child.

In addition, “children interacting with sensitive, calm and less anxious fathers during a book session at the age of two showed better cognitive development, including attention, problem-solving, language and social skills,” says Dr. Vaheshta Sethna from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London. “This suggests that reading activities and educational references may support cognitive and learning development in these children.”

While the study’s authors acknowledged that the study’s methodology wasn’t perfect — for example, most parents involved in the study have strong educational backgrounds — it still reveals insight into how parents can enhance their child’s cognitive development. Reading with a child, in particular, seemed to be especially beneficial.

“The clear message for new fathers here is to get stuck in and play with your baby,” adds Ramchandani. “Even when they’re really young playing and interacting with them can have a positive effect.”

The study’s results were published in the Infant Mental Health Journal.

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