Imprinting and Attachment: Proximate and Ultimate Considerations
Slobodan B. Petrovich Jacob L. Gewirtz
Processes of imprinting and attachment are examined, and the attempt is made to cast the empirical record in a conceptual frame that views imprinting and attachment as a model of behavioral adaptation given the prevailing species-typical ecological contingencies affecting precocial and altricial-like species. The analysis explores issues in imprinting research and invites consideration of ways in which these may intersect with research on human attachment. The treatment compares processes of imprinting and attachment acquisition. In this, the heuristic emphasis is on the role of learning. As an example, the analysis focuses on the infant fear-of-strangers phenomenon. Moving toward synthesis, the analysis draws from the comparative literature and the concepts of inclusive fitness, kin selection, and parental investment, to speculate about the ultimate evolutionary-genetic origins of behaviors denoted by the terms imprinting and attachment. This synthesis proposes that attachment behaviors increase the inclusive fitness of individuals of species whose mode of reproduction is characterized by intricate patterns of parental investment. The kin- selection feature of the synthesis proposes that filial behaviors are likely to be found in interactions among organisms that share a significant proportion of their genes. Infanticide and serious infant abuse are thought likely to be observed under stressful conditions of intensified reproductive pressure, environmental-ecological depletion and/or where the mother's mate is not the infant's biological father. By focusing on the comparative lifespan record, the treatment notes that, under ecologically-appropriate conditions, the processes of attachment acquisition and subsequent socialization are likely to result in the production of zygotes and offspring. In contrast, exposure to ecologically-inappropriate stimuli during early social development may place an organism at risk for isolation from a reproductive-generative population.
The imprinting phenomenon has had a relatively long and interesting history