We Really Do Turn Into Our Mothers

by Mary Katherine
Originally Published: 
A mother in a white sweater and black stripes touching the nose of her daughter in an orange T-shirt...
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Occasionally my editor will send me an awesome study and be like, “Hey, MK can you cover this?” And I’ll read the title and be like “Oh, heck yes I can. This is gonna be fun.”

Then I chug my coffee and it’s go time.

This week, however, I was given a link to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience entitled “Female-Specific Intergenerational Transmission Patterns of the Human Corticolimbic Circuitry.” And as I sat there, drinking coffee and staring into this word abyss, my brain was all “beep-beep-boop, does not compute, sorry.”

Full disclosure: I’m not a neuroscientist. However, I do know how to Google, so between my coffee and my mad search engine skills, I was finally able to deduce the meaning behind this incredibly fancy-sounding science.

And y’all, this is some fascinating information!

Let’s start with the working hypothesis behind this study: scientists theorized that mother-daughter brains are biologically the most similar of any intergenerational relationship. Well, I don’t know about you, but I am constantly convinced that I’m turning into my mother. Right off the bat, this theory seems pretty legit to me. I’m a believer.

Heck, if these scientists wanted to save some time and money, they could’ve sat around my house long enough to hear me yell, “You’ll poke your eye out with that!” in a thick, southern twang.

Like mother, like daughter. It’s definitely a thing.

But scientists don’t function on anecdotes, so they tested their hypothesis by comparing intergenerational brain structures via MRI, focusing on the corticolimibic system. Aaaand since I don’t have a PhD in neuroscience, this is where I had to start googling. Turns out, the corticolimbic system is the processing center of a broad range of functions, such as decision making and emotional regulation.

In short, this study examined the areas that control how we think and feel.

And lo and behold, after collecting data from 35 different families, the scientists discovered that the corticolimbic systems are most similar between mothers and daughters. Which means the whole “OMG, I’m totally turning into my mother” thing is real.

Really freaking real. Science says so, folks.

Like, when you cry at that dog adoption commercial…you can probably thank your mama. And when you feel a rage because your hair tangles don’t brush out quite right, you can probably thank your mama. Or, if you don’t want to thank her, you can blame her. But either way–it’s probably from your mama.

And it’s not just our emotional tendencies that are similar to our mother’s. The study also offered a helpful glimpse into predictable patterns in mental illness. Lead author Fumiko Hoeft explained that the corticolimbic system is strongly tied to depression. This means the similarities in mother-daughter brain chemistry can also serve as predictors for the younger generation’s mental health experiences.

And while this study sample was considerably small, the outcome doesn’t exactly stand alone. There are many more recent publications which reported similar data. Like this study published in Psychology Today, which determined the connection between mothers and daughters is stronger than any other parent-child pairing, throughout every phase of life. And this study which shows that mothers and daughters influence one another differently than any other familial relationship.

Turns out, “like mother, like daughter” is more than an idiom. Science has spoken, and when it comes to the brain chemistry directing how we think, feel, and behave–rap artist Juvenile was right all along.

She get it from her mama.

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