Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2

By Justin D. Call; Eleanor Galenson et al. | Go to book overview
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Biological Bases of the
Mother-Child Relationship

Robert A. Hinde, Sc.D.

That either data from animals or evolutionary theory could be of any value to child psychiatry might well be doubted. Our cognitive abilities and capacity to communicate by a spoken language set us apart from other species. The influence of biology on the behavior of mothers is often shrouded by that of culture, and the diversity of human cultures has no parallel among animals. Simple comparisons between the behavior of people and that of animals are misleading if only because, given the diversity of animals and the diversity of cultures, it is nearly always possible to find a parallel to prove whatever you wish. Nevertheless, I argue here that principles abstracted from comparative data on lower species can provide a perspective not without value for child psychiatry.

Two general points must be emphasized.

First, the discussion will move repeatedly between nonhuman and human primates. The issue is not whether there are resemblances between the two but whether, at a more abstract level, data on or theories about nonhuman primates can facilitate our understanding of our own species. Second, it is possible to produce

reasonably strong evidence about the selective forces that have shaped the behavior of monkeys and apes. The view that comparable selective forces have shaped a particular aspect of our own behavior invariably rests on much less secure evidence, though there is often a strong prima facie case. Clearly there is an enormous danger of armchair theorizing. Yet I hope to show that the approach gives us useful additional insights about human behavior and helps to integrate numerous apparently independent human characteristics.

For brevity I shall focus mainly on the parent-offspring relationship, though of course that relationship can be considered only in the social context in which it is embedded. Furthermore, this will usually mean the mother‐ offspring relationship, since in the nonhuman primates that have been most studied paternal care is not well developed. There are in fact few extant nonhuman primates in which the father plays a substantial role in the care of the offspring—principally the gibbons and some South American species. Nevertheless, evidence from comparative anatomy and physiology strongly suggests that our species has been adapted to sustain a pair-bond between male and female (Alexander and Noonan, 1979; Short, 1979). This bond may have been adaptive because the father's presence was impor

This work was supported by the Medical Research Council and the Royal Society.

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