A new study has concluded that a father’s love contributes as much, and sometimes more, to a child's development as does a mother's love.
The finding is one of a number resulting from a large-scale analysis of research involving over 10,000 participants about the power of parental rejection and acceptance in shaping our personalities as children and into adulthood.
Conducted by Ronald Rohner Rohner of the University of Connecticut and written with co-author Abdul Khaleque, the study Personality and Social Psychology Review is the result of looking at 36 studies from around the world.
"In our half-century of international research, we’ve not found any other class of experience that has as strong and consistent effect on personality and personality development as does the experience of rejection, especially by parents in childhood,”
"Children and adults everywhere, regardless of differences in race, culture, and gender tend to respond in exactly the same way when they perceived themselves to be rejected by their caregivers and other attachment figures.”
The study found that in response to rejection by their parents, children tend to feel more anxious and insecure, as well as more hostile and aggressive toward others.
The pain of rejection, especially when it occurs over a period of time in childhood, tends to linger into adulthood. This makes it more difficult for adults who were rejected as children to form secure and trusting relationships with their intimate partners.
The study also found that when we are rejected, it triggers the same part of the brain as physical pain does. However, Professor Rohner said that, unlike physical pain, the emotional distress from rejection can last for years being re-lived over and over.
When it comes to the impact of a father's love versus that of a mother, results suggest that while children and adults often experience more or less the same level of acceptance or rejection from each parent, the influence of one parent's rejection — oftentimes the father's — can be much greater than the other's.
One possibility for this difference is because rejection from the parent who is seen as more respected and powerful is more painful. So if a child perceives their father as having higher prestige, he may be more influential in their life than the child's mother.
One important take-home message from all this research, Rohner says, is that fatherly love is critical to a person's development. The importance of a father's love should help motivate many men to become more involved in nurturing child care. Additionally, he says, widespread recognition of the influence of fathers on their children’s personality development should help reduce the incidence of "mother blaming” common in schools and clinical setting.
"The great emphasis on mothers and mothering has led to an inappropriate tendency to blame mothers for children’s behavior problems and maladjustment when, in fact, fathers are often more implicated than mothers in the development of problems such as these.”
The paper "Transnational Relations Between Perceived Parental Acceptance and Personality Dispositions of Children and Adults: A Meta-Analytic Review” was published in the May 2012 Personality and Social Psychology Review, a journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP).