Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, a researcher at the Mental Illness and Addiction Axis at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and McGill University in Montreal, said a study using mice found the absence of a father during critical growth periods led to impaired social and behavioral abilities later in adults.
"Although we used mice, the findings are extremely relevant to humans," Gobbi said in a statement. "We used California mice which, like in some human populations, are monogamous and raise their offspring together."
Gobbi and colleagues compared the social behavior and brain anatomy of mice that had been raised with both parents to those raised only by their mothers. Mice raised without a father had abnormal social interactions and were more aggressive than counterparts raised with both parents, but these effects were stronger for female offspring than their brothers.
Females raised without fathers also had a greater sensitivity to the stimulant drug, amphetamine.
"The behavioral deficits we observed are consistent with human studies of children raised without a father," Gobbi, the study's lead author and who is also a psychiatrist, said. "These children have been shown to have an increased risk for deviant behavior and in particular, girls have been shown to be at risk for substance abuse. This suggests that these mice are a good model for understanding how these effects arise in humans."
The study was published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.