Children raised without fathers are more aggressive, study finds (Martin Gommel/Flickr)

Children raised without fathers have abnormal social skills and are more aggressive than those raised with two parents, a study has found.

Scientists at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre have found that the absence of a father during critical growth periods leads to impaired social and behavioural abilities as adults.

The researchers looked at mice families where a male and female are monogamous and raise offspring together: "Although we used mice, the findings are extremely relevant to humans," says senior author Gabriella Gobbi.

Researchers compared the social behaviour and brain anatomy of mice that had been raised with both parents to those that had only been raised by their mothers.

Those raised without a father had abnormal social interactions and were more aggressive. They also found these effects were stronger in female offspring than males.

Female offspring also showed a greater sensitivity to the stimulant drug amphetamine when raised without fathers.

Neurological differences

"The behavioural deficits we observed are consistent with human studies of children raised without a father," Gobbi said.

"These children have been shown to have an increased risk for deviant behaviour and in particular, girls have been shown to be at risk for substance abuse. This suggests that these mice are a good model for understanding how these effects arise in humans."

In terms of neurological development, the researchers found defects in the prefrontal cortex, which helps control social and cognitive activity, in mice raised without fathers.

Gobbi said: "This is the first time research findings have shown that paternal deprivation during development affects the neurobiology of the offspring."

Researchers said their results should encourage more studies into the role of fathers during development as it suggests both parents are important to a child's mental health.