How attachment gave rise to culture

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


This chapter reviews advances in evolutionary theory since Bowlby and proposes that our capacity for culture emerged with the evolution of human attachment by means of selection for increased mother-infant cooperation in the resolution of parent-offspring conflict. It outlines the evolutionary-developmental logic of attachment, parent-offspring conflict, and the view of culture as “ extended embodied minds.” It describes how the embodied mind and its attachments might have been extended beyond the mammalian mother-infant dyad to include expanding circles of cooperative individuals and groups. It argues that because attachment came before and gave rise to culture, no culture could long exist that did not accommodate the attachment needs of its infants. On this view, all the myriad cultural contexts of attachment foster secure-enough attachment—
except when they cannot. Theory and evidence show that when mothers and
others are unable to buffer their children against environmental risk and uncertainty, insecure attachment can be (or once was) evolutionarily rational. The major source of risk and uncertainty today are the causes and consequences of intergenerational poverty or inequality. It concludes that an attachment theory fully informed by twenty-first century evolutionary theory is fully consilient with normative emic perspectives on the nature of the child and appropriate child care, in both favorable and unfavorable environments.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe cultural nature of attachment
Subtitle of host publicationContextualizing relationships and development
EditorsHeidi Keller, Kim A. Bard
Place of PublicationCambridge, MA
PublisherThe MIT Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9780262342865
ISBN (Print)9780262036900
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameErnst Strungmann Forum
PublisherFrankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS)


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