The current issue of Scientific American Mind has an article on the potentially beneficial influence of fathers on their daughters (“Where is Dad?”). There are always outliers, but much credible research indicates that the physical or emotional absence of their father can predispose girls to earlier puberty and risky sexual behavior. So how does this work, exactly? Some of the psychologists profiled in the article seem to offer some slightly tortured arguments. Two female evolutionary psychologists claim that seeing their fathers leave “provides young girls with a cue about what the future holds in terms of the mating system they are born into.” The abandoned daughters infer that “men don’t stay for long” – hence “finding a man requires quick action.” On the basis of this inference, they make a rational, if subconscious, choice. They opt for an evolutionarily adaptive “reproductive strategy”– to rev up their own reproductive maturation and seek to get pregnant as soon as femininely possible.
It’s curious how social “scientists” who want to draw precise causal arrows and deploy robotic language so often end up concocting just so stories – fanciful rationalizations perhaps spun by Gazzaniga’s famous “left-hemisphere interpreter.” Thankfully, another psychologist has decided, after all, to factor in fatherly love and acceptance. The emphasis, however, is apparently on observable affection and acceptance vs. rejection – as if these are again strategies within a game-theoretical model, and the focus seems to remain on social cues and lessons learned. How about a more elegant explanation – that a strong bond to their fathers has a beneficial effect on the neurosomatic development of girls (including perhaps epigenetic adjustments to a warm, safe and supportive emotional setting)? As I mentioned the other day, such non-manipulative, murky influences rarely enter the equations produced by serious social scientists.
The article also says the important role of fatherly love and acceptance for the optimal physiological, mental and social development of girls “is not necessarily good news for fathers – it increases the demand of them to get this right.” Right – with all those contemporary pressures, distractions and temptations, it may take a real effort to love one’s daughter properly.