Is It True? Does Motherhood Really Make You Smarter?
Five Attributes of a Baby-Boosted Brain
- Perception: Nasal, audio, radar, touch. The plasticity of a mother’s brain is strengthened. Senses used with a newborn re-map part of the mother’s brain, improving ability to interpret information.
- Efficiency: J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, says she would write voraciously when her child went down for a nap. Many mothers experience the feeling of not having enough time in the day to get things done, but the release of dopamine in the brain during stressful situations may play a role in developing/enhancing the characteristic of efficiency.
- Resiliency: Oxytocin, a hormone found in high levels in mothers, keeps stress away so that moms can cope with more. Research has shown that it may directly help memory and learning.
- Motivation: Just like the rats, mothers who feel a responsibility to protect and feed their young performed better at foraging for food and taking risks. These traits improve their ability to focus and attain goals, and induce competitiveness and ambitiousness, greater risk taking, the ability to adapt to change quickly, and bold displays of courage compared to those that are not mothers. This “no fear” attitude may be attributed to the release of oxytocin and prolactin—another hormone the helps moms handle anxiety and fear.
- Emotional Intelligence: Emotional Intelligence (EI) traits, including self awareness, mood management, empathy, self motivation, and managing relationships, can contribute to stronger friendships, marriages, and physical health, as well as provide a competitive edge in workplace—particularly with jobs that involve a lot of contact.
Why We Should Care
“You can define smart in many ways, but for me one aspect is responding at a sign of trouble, especially if it involves your own offspring,” says Katherine Ellison.
Prominent Australian neuroscientist Allan Snyder compares pregnant women with Albert Einstein. “Women’s memory is not reduced during pregnancy,” he maintains, “Rather their attention is on things that are more immediately crucial. Einstein was known to forget where he put checks of large amounts, not because of bad memory, but rather because of deep concentration on things of greater importance.”
Additionally, Emotional Intelligence is placing a more significant role in the workplace. Ellison cites these findings:
- The most successful US Air Force recruiters turned out to score highest on EI test.
- Veteran partners in a multinational consulting firm who scored high on an EI survey delivered $1.2 million more profit from their accounts than did other partners.
- In jobs such as sales and mechanics, top emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) performers were found to be 85 percent more productive than workers of average emotional intelligence. With more complex jobs such as insurance sales or account managers, the difference rose to 127 percent.
“Working mothers who care for their own children for large parts of each day may accordingly bring special talents to the millions of jobs available in fields such as nursing, physical therapy, and fitness,” says Ellison.
Ellison hopes that mothers will inform themselves about cutting edge research to be more conscious of the changes they’re going through, in particular the positive ones, and—keeping their attention on the positive—make the parenting experience more rewarding. “I do believe that when you’re focused on what you can learn from a given experience, you learn more.”
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