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Approved Research

The Paradox of Parenthood and Happiness: Exploring the Role of Empathy

Principal Investigator: Dr Valentina Rotondi
Approved Research ID: 65642
Approval date: November 22nd 2021

Lay summary

Does having children increase individuals' life satisfaction and happiness? The existing social science literature has not been able so far to find a clear answer to this question. Hence, the major goal of this project is to explore a possible mechanism that might explain the association between parenthood and happiness: the neuro-anatomical changes occurring in parents when transitioning into parenthood and the role played by empathy. After birth and up to two years afterwards, women show reduced grey matter volumes in regions subserving social cognition. These changes also impact affective domains, such as empathy and social emotions. At the same time, emotional distress and the perception of other people's pain activate neural structures that are also involved in the direct experience of pain. This research will fill the gap in the literature, by studying the relationship between parenting and happiness, and in particular whether this relationship can be explained by empathy and an increase in the ability to feel others' pain. To do this, the project will use the UK biobank dataset including the collection of genome-wide genetic data and resting and task-based fMRI of around 100,000 participants aged 40-69 years old.