Fatherhood: Unique Contributions to Child Health

Image result for dad roughhousing

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new clinical report this past June detailing “the unique contributions of fathers to healthy child development” as well as “encourag[ing] pediatricians to make an extra effort to support and involve dads more. It is the first clinical report on fathers the AAP has released in over a decade, and it includes an extensive review of theemerging research on fatherhood.” Defining fathers rather broadly–including biological fathers, stepfathers, foster fathers, grandfathers–the report’s findings include:

  • Father’s playtime or “roughhouse play,” which “decreased externalizing and internalizing behavior problems and enhanced social competence” among preschoolers.
  • Communication style, which usually includes bigger words (compared to the common maternal style of speaking at the child’s level) Research finds that, “at 3 years of age, father-child communication was a significant and unique predictor of advanced language development in the child but mother-child communication was not.”
  • “The report cites the vast body of research that shows father-presence can reduce anti-social behaviors in boys, and is linked to a decrease in early puberty, depression, early sexual activity, and teen pregnancy in girls.”

In summary,

Ultimately, the AAP report concludes: “The message is clear: fathers do not parent like mothers, nor are they a replacement for mothers when they are not at home; they provide a unique, dynamic, and important contribution to their families and children.”

This long overdue message on the irreplaceable role of fathers is not only vital for child healthcare providers to understand and communicate, but also for parents, teachers, and policymakers who want to promote child wellbeing for every family. As the AAP report demonstrates through the large and growing body of research on fatherhood, dads matter as much as moms to children’s health, and they matter in unique ways. Hopefully, more pediatricians will work harder to educate both parents about this truth, and to encourage and facilitate father involvement during every stage of child development.

Don’t Trust Your Gut

Image result for empathy gifWhat works better when it comes to interpersonal relationships and inferring the feelings of others: trusting your intuition (your gut) or being systematic (facts and reason)? A new study suggests the latter. From the abstract:

To determine which view is supported by the evidence, we conducted 4 studies examining relations between mode of thought (intuitive vs. systematic) and empathic accuracy. Study 1 revealed a lay belief that empathic accuracy arises from intuitive modes of thought. Studies 2 through 4, each using executive-level professionals as participants, demonstrated that, contrary to lay beliefs, people who tend to rely on intuitive thinking also tend to exhibit lower empathic accuracy. This pattern held when participants inferred others’ emotional states based on (a) in-person face-to-face interactions with partners (Study 2) as well as on (b) pictures with limited facial cues (Study 3). Study 4 confirmed that the relationship is causal: experimentally inducing systematic (as opposed to intuitive) thought led to improved empathic accuracy. In sum, evidence regarding personal and social processes in these 4 samples of working professionals converges on the conclusion that, contrary to lay beliefs, empathic accuracy arises more from systematic thought than from gut intuition.

Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has actually argued against empathy in favor of a more distanced compassion. Bloom argues that empathy causes us to focus attention on suffering at the cost of the bigger picture, leading to harmful policies and outcomes (including an increased capacity for violence and aggression). The study above seems to indicate that a more distanced compassion–one that is a bit more cold and calculated–may be the answer to achieving the intended goals of empathy.


Innovation Is a Product of the Collective Brain

Image result for collective brain

The work of cultural psychologist Joseph Henrich has been brought up before and a recent post at Evonomics demonstrates why his work (along with others) is so important:

Innovations don’t require singular genius or Carlyle’s “Great Man”; instead both innovations and innovators are a product of the real Secret of Our Success—our social learning psychology, shaped by evolution to hone in on and learn from individuals with more knowledge, greater skill, and more success. When this selective learning plays out in our societies and social networks, these networks act as “collective brains”.

Innovations occur when previously isolated ideas meet. From the innovator’s perspective, it’s an independent discovery, but from the perspective of the collective brain, it is an inevitable consequence of spreading ideas that converge across an entire social system—a veritable “marketplace of ideas”. The upshot to the collective brain perspective is that increasing innovation means focusing not on individual talent, but rather on societal factors. The paper [by Henrich and Muthukrishna] identifies three key factors driving the rate of innovation: sociality, transmission fidelity, and cultural variance.

These three factors are defined as follows:

  • Sociality: “the degree to which society facilitates connections between people. Larger, more interconnected societies will have higher sociality, resulting in everyone being exposed to more people and more ideas.”
  • Transmission fidelity: “the replication of knowledge through formal and informal learning. In WEIRD societies—those that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic—a primary form of transmission is formal schooling. Unsurprisingly, more educated populations have higher innovation rates and these rates should continue to rise with educational improvements[.]”
  • Cultural variance: “the variety of ideas that are created and tested. Although most new ideas are less than brilliant…society benefits from the rare game-changing unicorns. Muthukrishna and Henrich argue that weaker patent laws facilitate more recombination, as do stronger social safety nets, which give more “wantrepeneurs” the security to become entrepreneurs.”

In conclusion,

The work of Muthukrishna, Henrich, and their colleagues demonstrates that underneath any innovation, be it a steam engine or a mathematical equation, lies a package of psychology that allowed our species to acquire a second, independently evolving line of inherited information—culture.

And just as natural selection has produced complex designs without a designer, so too have individuals connected in collective brains, selectively transmitting ideas and learning information, produced complex inventions without the need for an inventor. Innovations, in other words, don’t require a specific innovator any more than your thoughts require a particular neuron.

Feeling the Love…at Work

A new blog post at Harvard Business Review looks at a longitudinal study forthcoming in Administrative Science Quarterly, which

surveyed 185 employees, 108 patients, and 42 patient family members at two points in time, 16 months apart, at a large, nonprofit long-term healthcare facility and hospital in the Northeast. Using multiple raters and multiple methods, we explored the influence that emotional culture has on employee, patient, and family outcomes. What we learned demonstrates how important emotional culture is when it comes to employee and client well-being and performance. Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork.  They showed up to work more often. Our research also demonstrated that this type of culture related directly to client outcomes, including improved patient mood, quality of life, satisfaction, and fewer trips to the ER. While this study took place in a long-term care setting ­— which many people might consider biased toward the “emotional” — these findings hold true across industries. We conducted a follow-up study, surveying 3,201 employees in seven different industries from financial services to real estate and the results were the same.

This is why organizational and management research has been a major part of my work in theology. I’m excited for the future of management.