There’s nothing quite like a hug from grandma, but a new study has found that that special bond between grandmother and grandchild may be even more profound than previously thought.
The study, conducted by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, found that grandmothers feel greater emotional empathy for their grandchildren than they do their own children.
Fifty women with at least one biological grandchild aged between three and 12 took part in the study, which used functional magnetic resonance imaging to observe the participants’ brain activity while they looked at photos of their grandchildren and grown-up children, as well as images of unrelated children and adults.
The study found that the area of the brain responsible for emotional empathy lit up more when shown pictures of their grandkids than it did when looking at pictures of their grown-up offspring.
Leader of the study, anthropologist and neuroscientist James Rilling, told Agence France-Presse: ‘They recruited areas of the brain that are involved in emotional empathy, and also areas of the brain that are involved in movement and motor simulation and preparation.
‘When they’re viewing these pictures of their grandchild, they’re really feeling what the grandchild is feeling. So when the child is expressing joy, they’re feeling that joy,’ he said. ‘When the children are expressing distress, they’re feeling that distress.’
Anecdotally, in interviews conducted with the grandmothers who took part in the study, they found that many of the women felt they could be more present for their grandchildren now compared to when they were raising their own children. Woman said they didn’t feel the same time and financial pressures they experienced the first time around with their own kids.
‘A lot of them reported actually enjoying being a grandmother more than they enjoyed being a mother,’ Rilling said.