“Grandma brain” is real – here’s what it means

“Grandma brain” is real – here’s what it means

Photography, Ekaterina Shakharova,


“Grandma brain” is real – here’s what it means

It turns out, the stereotype of a grandmother spoiling her grandkids might be more than just a stereotype.

If you’ve spent time with your grandmother when you were little, you probably remember just how elated she was to see you. It seemed like you could ask for anything under the sun and it would magically appear in front of you.

There might be scientific evidence to back up the claim that there’s no love like a grandmother’s love, a phenomenon known as “grandma brain.”

The study

Dr. James Rilling, a professor of anthropology at Emory University, recently conducted a study using MRIs that might explain a grandmother’s intense devotion to her grandkids.

The study was conducted on 50 grandmothers in 2021. They were shown pictures of their grandchildren, their children and random people.

Upon seeing pictures of their grandchildren, the women’s brains exhibited different behaviours than when they saw pictures of their own kids. Specifically, the part of the brain associated with emotional empathy was activated when a woman saw a picture of her grandchild. “That suggests that grandmothers are geared towards feeling what their grandchildren are feeling when they interact with them. If their grandchild is smiling, they’re feeling the child’s joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they’re feeling the child’s pain and distress,” says Rilling.

When a grandmother was shown pictures of her own kids, a different part of the brain was activated, the one associated with cognitive empathy. With cognitive empathy, a person understands what the other person is feeling and why, while emotional empathy allows one to experience the other person’s emotions.

“Love on steroids”



Photography, Christian Bowen,

Grandmother of three and retired teacher Janet Meisel wrote an essay for Medium entitled, “Are Grandparents Supposed To Feel This Much Love?” in which she called her own feelings “love on steroids.” The intensity of the love she feels for her grandkids makes her feel like her heart “will burst with joy.”

Other factors could explain this feeling. Grandparents usually have fewer responsibilities than parents, especially when it comes to newborns and toddlers. While parents have to juggle work, financial stress, childcare and everything in between, grandparents get to enjoy their grandchildren’s company and hand them back to their parents at the end of the day.

Further research

Dr. Rilling is currently studying saliva samples from grandmothers to find out if they contain more oxytocin (the love hormone) than samples of women the same age who are not grandmothers, and the data gathered from the study is still being analyzed. Dr. Rilling also plans to conduct a study on the brains of grandfathers, who were not included in the initial research, and hopes to conduct long-term research on women’s hormone levels before and after they become grandmothers.





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“Grandma brain” is real – here’s what it means