They say a grandmother's job is to always spoil her grandchildren, but one study suggests grandmothers altogether feel closer to their grandkids than their own offspring.
Studies have shown the presence of a grandmother can positively impact a grandchild's life, James Rilling, professor of anthropology, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, told USA TODAY.
Rilling's curiosity about this human adaption pushed him to study the brain functions of about 50 women with at least one biological grandchild aged between 3 and 12. The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan the grandmothers' brains as they looked at photos of that child, the child's parents and images of an unrelated child and adult.
"When grandmothers viewed photographs of their grandchildren, they particularly activated brain regions that have previously been associated with emotional empathy, suggesting that grandmothers may be predisposed to share the emotional states of their grandchildren," Rilling said.
The study found when the grandmothers looked at images of their adult child, areas of their brain associated with cognitive empathy were activated. This showed they were cognitively understanding but not emotionally connecting with their child.
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Emotional empathy is the ability to feel an emotion someone else is also feeling, Rilling said. Previously, he performed a similar study where fathers looked at pictures of their children.
However, Rilling said overall he saw a stronger emotional empathy and motivation with grandmothers than fathers on average. In some varying cases, fathers did have a stronger response.
"It is our first glimpse at grandmaternal brain function. It suggests that grandmothers particularly rely on neural systems that are involved with emotional empathy when engaging with their grandchildren," Rilling said.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Are grandmas more connected to grandchildren than their own children?