mother-child relationship

Evolution and parental care

The process of natural selection has slowly but steadily “modelled”, sharpened, the hereditary components that allow the adaptation, survival and reproduction of the species during evolution.

Evolutionary psychology studies, investigates, the evolution of human behavior to the light and, above all, in view of these factors.

A paradigmatic example that allows us to look at the history of our evolution in a more clearly way, is the behavior classified with the term “parental care”. And there is no doubt that maternal care – so natural that it can be considered spontaneous – were patterned on the adaptive needs. Although in the recent past has become a need of a social nature.

Although the view of the mother-child relationship has changed considerably we have to consider it in the light of “needs” that evolution has defined to allow protection to the slow development of the child yet. A particularly successful bond.

Primitive man slowly has refined his manipulative skills, his harmonious and coordinated movement to settle the (new) bipedal deambulation; driven by new patterns of hunting and defense, aggregation and organization, has stimulated the development of the brain mass along new lines .

The volume of the brain and (of course) of the skull was increased adding a new (and important) factor in choosing sexual mate: a woman with greater width of the basin (pelvis) to avoid additional risks of mortality during childbirth. The evolution process guarantees – especially during the evolutionary transition – a good survival rate to defend and ward the precious genetic transmission.

The cost of this development, which led our species to the intellectual progress we know, is the fact that the child born entirely inexperienced. He needs to learn everything. His brain has to be trained. The child’s development needs a lot of time, and many external stimuli, environmental interactions and experiences, to develop the complex structure of the brain.

Meanwhile, the child needs both nourishment and protection. He needs a long time to become (at least partly) self-sufficient. Parental care he needs go well beyond the period of breastfeeding and weaning. More beyond it.

And let us add yet another factor. Humans, as we know from various archaeological research, moved looking for sites and territories to find food resources. It is clear that the man was favorite prey of other species and therefore he needed to know how build safe places and organize personal defences and strategies to “bring” (carry) with it. Behavioral skills (such as verbal language) to be used as needed.

For example, the behavioral repertoire of a tender mother able to soothe and sleep the baby still unable to “understand” the danger. Make it stay quiet and silent until danger has been averted.

It is evident the role played by the mother to calm and appease the baby to avoid detection by predators. That’s where the “special” women’s skills to calm a crying baby, come from. Their ability to understand the needs of the child and to participate in to the group needs, factors of discomfort or requests for help. That’s why it seems that a mother “always know” what to do.

Mothers therefore have evolved capabilities that increase the survival chances of children. These are the most talented of the fathers to recognize the facial expressions of infants; they readily acknowledge happiness and anger. The paternal care are of different kind and embrace an equally long period. There is a wise division of commitments each with defined goals. An investment of different resources but always finalized to the genetic survival.

Renato Gentile

Università di Parma – April, 2013


One thought on “mother-child relationship

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