Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2

By Justin D. Call; Eleanor Galenson et al. | Go to book overview

29
The Evolution of Parent-Infant Attachment:
New Psychobiological Perspectives

Hanuš Papoušek, M.D., Sc.D.

Mechthild Papoušek, M.D.

A recurring theme in infant psychiatry has been the elucidation of the role of mother‐ infant attachment in human development. Although extensively researched, our knowledge of the role of mother-infant attachment shows broad gaps and has generated increasing theoretical controversy, as is evident in contemporary discussions of this concept.

In an attempt to narrow these gaps with the help of a cross-disciplinary approach, we want to review some psychobiological aspects of mother-infant attachment. When looking at psychological phenomena a psychobiologist also tries to consider their evolutionary past, adaptive meaning, and biological roots, as these may be seen in paleontological or comparative analogies of the observed phenomena.

The psychobiological view is not new in the research on mother-infant attachment. Bowlby (1969) attempted to elucidate the evolution of mother-infant attachment in his pioneering book. However, the increase in available evidence since the late 1960s has brought about new conceptual impulses. What

used to be a realm of speculative interpretations has become accessible to exact documentation. Hypotheses can now be experimentally verified. Superficial views and vaguely defined terms have gradually been replaced with detailed microanalytic approaches and a differentiated terminology. Thus, no matter how far we may be from the full truth, there are good reasons for a critical look at some fundamental aspects of mother-infant attachment.


The Specificity of Human Evolution

One way of approaching the fundamental phenomena of human evolution is to raise the question of similarities and dissimilarities between man and other animals—that is, the question of specificity—and to study the ways in which evolution might have favored the emergence of features specific to humans. Consensus omnium on the species-specific importance of thought, language, and culture in human evolution has not essentially changed in the last few decades. The human capacity to symbolize the real world in words enormously improved man's chance to profit from a cultural heritage, to communicate across distances and cultural, if not planetary, borders, to integrate the past experience of many generations,

____________________
The following foundations have kindly supported our research: Die Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and Die Stiftung Volkswagenwerk. We owe special thanks to April Benasich of New York University for her valuable comments and editorial help.

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