Using Evolutionary History to Guide Us

Obtaining a more broadly informed view of parenting means examining parenting styles not just cross-culturally but through evolutionary history as well. Underneath the cultural twists that skew our behavior lies a natural biology, a human nature, that evolved a certain way for good biological reasons. Organic beings are, of course, subject to natural selection, and the path of evolution is not a perfect path. Contrary to popular belief, evolution does not select away all the defects and save only the perfect models. Instead, natural selection navigates a trade-off between cost and benefit; it deals with existing constraints and checks out the options, and then ends up with a compromise. Every species, every organism, is a compromise. As anthropologist Carol Worthman puts it, "Biological systems are Rube Goldberg systems. They don't always work perfectly but they work well enough." Apply that evolutionary frame¬ work to the evolved parent-infant dyad, and the same kind of Rube Goldberg solution appears. The human baby has a big head and has to be born too soon, so it is more dependent than the babies of other mammals. As a result, all kinds of mechanisms kick in to attach parents and infant in a physiological and emotional dyad. It's a patched-together sort of system, with strange bells and odd little whistles, and it often breaks down; but for the most part, it does work and babies grow up healthy.

The evolutionary perspective can be both comforting and disquieting. The best thing that evolution gives us is the flexibility to deal with all the various pathways to the same end result—a healthy, successful offspring that will grow to reproductive age and pass on more genes. "If evolution was going to design an adaptive organism," says Ronald Barr, "it would design one with multiple pathways."


Natural selection is not a perfect sieve and we must remember that, as adaptable beings, we are born with the possibility of taking many different adaptive paths.

Folksonomies: evolution wonder evolutionary psychology

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 Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Small , Meredith (1999-05-04), Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, Anchor, Retrieved on 2011-06-29
Folksonomies: parenting pregnancy babies infancy parenthood