Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution: Culture, Childrearing and Social Wellbeing


The social contexts in which children develop have transformed over recent decades, but also over millennia. Modern parenting practices have diverged greatly from ancestral practices, which included natural childbirth, extensive and on-demand breastfeeding, constant touch, responsiveness to the needs of the child, free play in nature with multiple-aged playmates, and multiple adult caregivers. Only recently have scientists begun to document the outcomes for the presence or absence of such parenting practices, but...

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The social contexts in which children develop have transformed over recent decades, but also over millennia. Modern parenting practices have diverged greatly from ancestral practices, which included natural childbirth, extensive and on-demand breastfeeding, constant touch, responsiveness to the needs of the child, free play in nature with multiple-aged playmates, and multiple adult caregivers. Only recently have scientists begun to document the outcomes for the presence or absence of such parenting practices, but early results indicate that psychological wellbeing is impacted by these factors.

Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution addresses how a shift in the way we parent can influence child outcomes. It examines evolved contexts for mammalian development, optimal and suboptimal contexts for human evolved needs, and the effects on children's development and human wellbeing. Bringing together an interdisciplinary set of renowned contributors, this volume examines how different parenting styles and cultural personality influence one another. Chapters discuss the nature of childrearing, social relationships, the range of personalities people exhibit, the social and moral skills expected of adults, and what 'wellbeing' looks like. As a solid knowledge base regarding normal development is considered integral to understanding psychopathology, this volume also focuses on the effects of early childhood maltreatment. By increasing our understanding of basic mammalian emotional and motivational needs in contexts representative of our ancestral conditions, we may be in a better position to facilitate changes in social structures and systems that better support optimal human development. This book will be a unique resource for researchers and students in psychology, anthropology, and psychiatry, as well as professionals in public health, social work, clinical psychology, and early care and education.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The evolutionary roots of human childrearing are superbly illuminated in this deeply moral book. Due respects are paid to relevant sciences and ancestral traditions almost abandoned, with sympathy and understanding. The return of cooperative, loving ways of living may yet counter the abandonment of traditional values evident in the sufferings of our modern dominance-based societies. An exceptional resource for insights into our better nature and nurture."-Jaak Panksepp, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience and Baily Endowed Chair of Animal Well-Being Science, Washington State University, and author of Affective Neuroscience and Archaeology of Mind

"This is a magnificent and much needed synthesis of recent scholarship in developmental psychology, evolutionary biology, ethology, neurobiology, epigenetics, and anthropology that converges on the critical tasks of childrearing. It should be widely read by students in all of these fields, as well as by healthcare and educational professionals and policymakers concerned about the future impact of current unprecedented social experimentation with child care, education, family structure, and parenting practices." -Joshua D. Sparrow, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

"The authors and editors of Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution examine culture and early life experiences through the prism of evolution, small hunter-gatherer society, and mammalian needs. The volume provides excellent evidence that there is a 'fundamental' basis of common infant care given to social mammals, especially to primates. It examines the range of the evolved, expectable circumstances for mammalian and human development and offers ideas that might lead to better modern human childrearing practices."-Robert Sussman, PhD, Professor of Physical Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199964253
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/21/2014
  • Pages: 364
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Darcia Narvaez is Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Narvaez's research focuses on moral development through the lifespan. Her theories include how early life affects the neurobiology underpinning of moral functioning (triune ethics theory), how evolved parenting practices may foster optimal moral functioning and wellbeing, and how teachers can take steps to foster ethical capacities during regular instruction (integrative ethical education).

Kristin Valentino is Assistant Professor of Psychology and the William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families Collegiate Chair at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Valentino's research interests are in developmental psychopathology where she studies how the integration of biological, psychological, and environmental factors can inform our understanding of typical and atypical development.

Agustin Fuentes is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Fuentes' current foci include cooperation and bonding in human evolution, ethnoprimatology and multispecies anthropology, evolutionary theory, and public perceptions of, and interdisciplinary approaches to, human nature(s).

James McKenna is Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. McKenna pioneered the first behavioral and electro-physiological studies documenting differences between mothers and infants sleeping together and apart and has become known worldwide for his work in promoting studies of breast feeding and mother-infant cosleeping.

Peter Gray is Research Professor of Psychology at Boston College. Dr. Gray has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, animal behavior, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education. His recent research has focused on the role of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves through play.

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Table of Contents

About the Editors

SECTION ONE: Baselines For Human Mammalian Development

Chapter 1. Children's Development in Light of Evolution and Culture
Darcia Narvaez, Peter Gray, James J. McKenna, Agustin Fuentes, and Kristin Valentino

Chapter 2. The Epigenetics of Mammalian Parenting
Frances A. Champagne
Commentary: As Time Goes By, A Touch is More Than Just a Touch
Eric E. Nelson

Chapter 3. Nonhuman primate models of mental health: Early life experiences affect developmental trajectories
Amanda M. Dettmer, Stephen J. Suomi, and Katherine Hinde
Commentary: Look how far we have come: A bit of consilience in elucidating the role of caregivers in relationship to their developing primate infants and children
James J. McKenna

SECTION TWO: Evolution's Baseline: Hunter Gatherer Contexts

Chapter 4. Relationships and Resource Uncertainty: Cooperative Development of Efe Hunter-Gatherer Infants and Toddlers
Gilda Morelli, Paula Ivey Henry, and Steffen Foerster
Commentary: Social Connectedness vs. Mothers on Their Own: Research on Hunter-Gather Tribes Highlights the Lack of Support Mothers and Babies Receive in the U.S.
Kathy Kendall-Tackett

Chapter 5. Batek childrearing and morality
Karen L. Endicott and Kirk M. Endicott
Commentary: Parenting in the Modern Jungle
Michael Jindra

Chapter 6. Cosleeping Beyond Infancy: Culture, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology of Bedsharing among Aka Foragers and Ngandu Farmers of Central Africa
Barry Hewlett and Jennifer W. Roulette
Commentary: Intertwining the Influences of Culture and Ecology Broadens a Definition of the Importance of Closeness in Care
Wendy Middlemiss

Chapter 7. The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, rough-and-tumble play, and the selection of restraint in human aggression
Douglas Fry
Commentary: Evolutionary Adaptation and Violent Aggression: From Myths to Realities
Riane Eisler

Chapter 8. The Play Theory of Hunter-Gatherer Egalitarianism
Peter Gray
Commentary: Comparative Studies of Social Play, Fairness, and Fitness: What We Know and Where We Should be Heading
Marc Bekoff

SECTION THREE: Contexts for the Evolution of Families and Children

Chapter 9. Incentives in the family I: The family firm, an evolutionary/economic theory for parent-offspring relations
Joan Roughgarden and Zhiyuan Song

Chapter 10. Preliminary steps towards addressing the role of non-adult individuals in human evolution
Agustin Fuentes
Commentary: Conflict and evolution
Melvin Konner

SECTION FOUR: Contexts Gone Awry

Chapter 11. Child Maltreatment and Early Mother-Child Interactions
Kristin Valentino, Michelle Comas, and Amy K. Nuttall
Commentary: Ancestral attachment: How the evolutionary foundation of attachment informs our understanding of child maltreatment interventions
Alyssa Crittenden

Chapter 12. The Importance of the Developmental Perspective in Evolutionary Discussions of PTSD
Robyn Bluhm and Ruth A. Lanius
Commentary: The modeling of complex PTSD can benefit from the careful integration of evolutionary and developmental accounts
Pierre Lienard

Chapter 13. From the Emergent Drama of Interpretation to Enscreenment
Eugene Halton
Commentary: Darwinism and Children
Jonathan Marks

SECTION FIVE: Child Flourishing

Chapter 14. Children's Environments and Flourishing
Tracy Gleason and Darcia Narvaez

Chapter 15: Postscript: Back to the Future
James McKenna


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