Motherhood makes you smarter

Adam Franssen, a biology professor at Longwood University, has a bold theory: mothers are smarter than other women.

He and other researchers, including Craig Kinsley of the University of Richmond, have found that there’s more science than previously thought to being equipped for motherhood. Mothers are better at problem solving, handling stress and at completing certain memory tasks.

Franssen’s aim has been to figure out what is happening in the brains of mothers to warrant these advantages. He designs experiments with mother and non-mother (but still female) rats to see how both groups perform on tasks such as navigating a maze. Then, he studies brain tissue samples from the rats to determine what neurons were activated. Does being a mother give a woman more neurons? Or, are a mother’s neurons bigger or more efficient? Franssen explains.

You have this theory about revving racecar engines and pregnant women’s brains. Can you explain? What do the two have in common?

It is funny comparison. At the revving stage, a racecar’s engine is getting prepped for that race. It seems like there is a lot of evidence to suggest that is actually what’s happening in the mother’s brain during the period of pregnancy. There are changes happening to neurons. They are increasing in size or some neurons have been shown to not only grow but to potentially increase their capacity to produce protein in one part of the brain or perhaps increase their neuronal branches to make communications from one neuron to another neuron that it wasn’t talking with before—all in anticipation of the high workload of caring for a child.

So, what advantages do mothers have over non-mothers, behaviorally?

It is quite the gamut of things that moms can do better than non-moms in the rat world. It is always fair to start by pointing out that rats are uni-parental. Continue reading

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