The connection between grandmother and grandchildren is more significant than with her children

Having a grandmother is the greatest blessing. They love us, take care of us, and fill us with pampering. Have you heard the phrase mothers educate, grandmothers pamper? Well, a new study proves it right, and not only that, it seems to show that grandmothers feel a greater connection with their grandchildren than with their children. It wasn’t your imagination; it’s true. The connection between grandmother and grandchildren is more significant than with her children

According to researchers at Emory University, who published their analysis in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, grandmothers feel a deeper emotional connection with their grandchildren than with their children, “Infants are likely to have developed traits to manipulate not only the maternal brain but also the brain of the grandmothers, obviously more the maternal grandmothers”, say the scientists.

There is a more significant emotional bond between grandmothers and grandchildren

The study examined the brains of 50 women who had at least one biological grandchild between the ages of three and twelve. Functional magnetic resonance imaging that reads brain activity was used.

The women were shown images of their grandchild, her child, an anonymous child, and an anonymous adult while the scientists analyzed their brain activity. The grandmothers also received questionnaires to measure the level of commitment to their grandchildren.

“Brain activity in areas associated with emotional empathy is very marked”, explained James Rilling, an anthropologist, and lead author.

“Grandmothers are geared to be very empathic with their grandchildren when interacting with them. If the grandchild smiles, she feels the joy of the child. And if her grandchild cries, she can also feel the child’s pain and anguish”.

With children, the connection is cognitive

The researchers found that, in contrast, when the grandmothers saw their adult children, a different area of the brain was activated that indicated cognitive, but not emotional, empathy.

“Emotional empathy is when you can feel what another person feels, but cognitive empathy is when you understand, on a cognitive level, what another person feels and why”, Rilling said.

The study indicates that grandmothers respond emotionally to their grandchildren’s traits when they are young; the children who were not related to them did not elicit a level of emotional response.

He also points out that children elicit in their grandmother cognitive empathy (also called the theory of mind) based on understanding what someone thinks or feels at a cognitive level. They can even put themselves in the other’s shoes, but fewer emotions are involved.

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Human grandmothers the only ones who help in the upbringing

Another important fact is that this link is stronger when grandmothers take care of their grandchildren, a human phenomenon par excellence.

“Mothers of great apes raise their young alone, for example. On the other hand, human mothers often receive support, especially from grandmothers. They are an important source of help in many families, and there is evidence that they contribute to the well-being of children”, said Rilling.

In conclusion, as indicated by other studies from the University of Oxford, the “cute” phenotype of babies, designed by evolution so that adults feel tenderness and want to care for them, as well as the bond that grandmothers generate with their grandchildren by caring and pampering them, make the relationship between them stress-free.

Parenting is a power struggle. It is love, but also pressure to educate them and set limits. Grandmas just love; the job of promoting responsibility is left to parents. It makes sense, don’t you think?

Translated by: Ligia M. Oliver Manrique de Lara

Spanish version: Here  

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