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Science shows another reason you should spend more time with your spouse


Natalia Fedori - Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 05/27/20

And your kids will be thanking you.

With most families still in lockdown together at the moment, you might be driving each other a bit crazy. But there’s a surprising benefit to this enforced time together, according to a recent report carried out by researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

The 2020 study has revealed that when spouses physically parent together they do so in a similar fashion — or more technically speaking, the husband and wife can physically alter each other’s brain activity to come up with similar responses to stimuli. So if their child is in the middle of a temper tantrum, they’ll have a similar approach to dealing with the meltdown.

Interestingly, the study, which looked at the brain activity of 24 couples, found that this mirrored behavior only occurs in “true” couples, not couples who had been randomly paired together.

In the study, the scientists focused on the prefrontal cortex part of the brain that is linked to complex behavior and emotional states. By monitoring the brain activity of the participants they could determine that if the couple heard stimuli together, such as a child crying, they’d respond in a similar way. Yet if they were apart, they’d have different reactions to the stimuli.

The study further found that the more in-tune a couple is, the more likely their behavior would be synchronized. This can have an impact on effective parenting according to Associate Professor Gianluca Esposito, who developed his idea further:

Our study indicates that when spouses are physically together, there is greater synchrony in their attentional and cognitive control mechanisms when parenting. Since the brain response of parents may be shaped by the presence of the spouse, then it is likely that spouses who do not spend much time together while attending their children may find it harder to understand each other’s viewpoint and have reduced ability to coordinate co-parenting responsibilities. This may undermine the quality of parental care in the long run.”

So this time together in lockdown is actually a wonderful opportunity to parent together more harmoniously. And as the report’s co-first author, Mengyu Lim, a project officer at NTU, shared: “The findings of this study may be empowering for those who experience parenting stress – that we should not think of parenting as an individual task, but a shared responsibility with the spouse. Co-parenting requires active teamwork, communication, and trust in each other.”

The study was jointly carried out with the United States’ National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and Italy’s University of Trento, and was published in the Nature Scientific Reports in May 2020. If you’d like to read more about how the study was undertaken and read further findings from the report, click here.

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