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Grandmothers May Feel Closer To Their Grandchildren Than Their Own Kids, Reveals Study

Grandmothers May Feel Closer To Their Grandchildren Than Their Own Kids, Reveals Study

In hunter-gatherer societies, grannies played quite an important role from finding food to raising their grandchildren.

For years, scientists have wondered why human females live on for years post-menopause because, in terms of evolution, an organism that cannot reproduce has little value. If you see from a purely evolutionary stance, grandmothers can be considered an oddity whose reproductive abilities have diminished, and thus they cannot help perpetuate the species, right? Well, there are some studies that contradict this view and state that grandmas may not only perpetuate the species but they could also be one of the reasons why humans enjoy long lives, to begin with. This is known as the "grandmother effect." 

In hunter-gatherer societies, grannies played quite an important role from finding food to raising their grandchildren. Their impact was so huge that it was deciding factor about whether or not kids survived. "By relieving a mother of some of her child-raising responsibilities, so the thinking goes, grandmothers make it easier for their daughters to have more children and also make it possible for those children to have longer lives by helping them during the difficult early years of life," wrote Haider J. Warraich in Stat News.

Representative image source: Getty | Photo by Thanasis Zovoilis

Now there are two studies that support the hypothesis grandmothers are an important factor in the survival of their grandchildren. Published in Current Biology, one of the studies analyzed the church birth and death records for individuals born in Finland between 1731 and 1890. It found that for those who had a maternal grandmother between the ages of 50 and 75, their survival rate increased. The other study pointed that it's not just a grandmother's existence that matters but also her proximity to the child. So the shorter the distance between the grandchild and grandmother, the more involved she can be in their lives. 

Both the studies strengthen the notion that the Grandmother Effect could be a reason behind the success of our species. This effect could be a huge reason why a new study shows that grandmothers may feel emotionally closer to their grandchildren than their own kids. The study, led by James Riling of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia published, measured the brain function in 20 grandmoms, who had at least one biological grandchild between the ages of 3 and 12. The subjects were shown pictures of their grandchild, an unknown child, an unknown adult, and the same-sex parent of the grandchild.

Representative image source: Getty | Photo by Compassionate Eye Foundation/Gary Burchell

It was found that when a grandmother saw a picture of their grandkid, it activated parts of their brain that are associated with emotional empathy and movement. When they showed her a photo be their adult child, it activated their cognitive empathy. What this meant was that the elderly women were trying to emotionally empathize with their grandkids while attempting to cognitively understand what their adult children were thinking. "That suggests that grandmothers are geared toward feeling what their grandchildren are feeling when they interact with them," said Rilling.

"If their grandchild is smiling, they're feeling the child's joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they're feeling the child's pain and distress," continued Rilling. Now that you know about the grandmother effect, it's easy to understand why they love us so deeply. Research has also shown that we wouldn't have come this far without them and the same goes for grandmothers who wouldn't have lived evolved and lived as long as they do post their reproductive age if it hadn't been for this important role. 

Representative image source: Getty | Photo by Brooke Fasani

References:

https://www.statnews.com/2019/02/22/grandmother-effect-helps-explain-human-longevity/

https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(19)30008-9

https://www.fox13news.com/news/grandmothers-may-hold-deeper-bond-with-grandchildren-than-own-children-study-suggests?

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2021.1997

Representative cover image source: Getty | Photo by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc