If your mom is still at the top of your speed-dial list, science explains the reason for that: mother-daughter relationships are the strongest of all parent-child bonds when it comes to the common ways their brains process emotion, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
That’s because while the connections between mothers and sons, father and daughters or fathers and sons may be built on solid foundations of love, they aren’t always as strong in the empathy departments. Based on the findings, brain chemistry is responsible for that.
According to that same study, conducted on 35 families, the part of the brain that regulates emotions is more similar between mothers and daughters than any other intergenerational pairing.
That means mom is more likely to understand where you’re coming from when faced with a problem because she could imagine herself in your shoes. (Or it could explain all the times you two have butt heads—the same sides of magnets repel each other, after all.)
The study also has potentially helpful implications when it comes to our understanding of mental health conditions. Lead author Fumiko Hoeft, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, explained that the examined corticolimbic system is strongly tied to depression.
That makes mothers’ mental health experiences good predictors for the daughters. And, considering there are good outcomes for preventative depression treatments, that knowledge of family history can be hugely helpful.
As the study was just the first to use intergenerational MRIs to compare brain structures, Hoeft hopes further research can explore the link with other mental health conditions in ways that could benefit all members of the family. In a press release, she said, “Anxiety, autism, addition, schizophrenia, dyslexia, you name it—brain patterns inherited from both mothers and fathers have an impact on just about all of them.”
Although the research base was small, other studies have explored the deep bond between mamas and daughters: One recent study found moms favor daughters (and dads favor sons) because of shared-experience bias.
Another study determined the connection between mothers and daughters remains stronger than other type of intergenerational family relationship throughout all the changes of life. Not surprisingly, more research has shown mothers and daughters influence each other—for better or worse—in different ways than other relationships.
Now we know that is both a matter of the heart and the brain.
A version of this post was published December 5, 2017. It has been updated.