Objectives and Need
Modern parenting practices have diverged greatly from ancestral practices which evolved to fixation among social mammals more than 30 million years ago (Konner, 2010). At the same time, personal and social health problems have been skyrocketing in the USA and increasingly around the world, many of which have documented links to early life experience (e.g., psychological problems such as ADHD, autism, anxiety and depression; not to mention psychosomatic conditions such as Type II diabetes, hypertension, and a variety of autoimmune disorders, e.g., Sanchez et al., 2001; Narvaez, Panksepp, Schore & Gleason, in press). Heckman (2008) marshals data showing that life outcomes for American youth are worsening, especially in comparison to 50 years ago. In order for science to play an effective role in helping to reverse current negative trends in global wellbeing, we need to foster a widespread understanding how human brains and bodies best develop.
The presumed environments of our distant ancestors in which the expectable caregiving environment for optimal development emerged provide insights into how personality and culture develop generally. The ancestral parenting practices for young children include natural childbirth, extensive and on-demand breastfeeding, constant touch, responsiveness to the needs of the child, free play in nature with multiple-aged playmates, extensive support of the mother-child dyad and multiple adult caregivers (Hewlett & Lamb, 2005; Konner, 2005, 2010). The outcomes for the presence or absence of each of these evolved parenting practices are only recently being scientifically documented (e.g., Champagne & Meaney, 2001). Recent work suggests that parenting patterns may have longterm effects on child and adult outcomes, shaping personality, health and wellbeing as well as moral functioning (Narvaez & Gleason, in press). In recent years Hrdy (2009) has raised new questions not so much as to whether or not the ancestral environment serves as a useful beginning point for understanding human contemporary cultural and biological issues, but to what extent either we have it wrong (as to what behavior emerged at that point) or how best we should, or should not, apply what principles we can derive to help “fix” contemporary problems. The experts at the symposium will consider these issues.
Many investigators concur on the importance of having a solid knowledge base regarding normal development, in human and other animals, in order to understand psychopathology (e.g., Cicchetti & Roisman, in press; Panksepp, 2001). Felitti and Anda (2005) suggest that child maltreatment is widespread in the USA. Including a focus on the effects of early maltreatment will give insight into the specific harm that can be done when evolved practices are abandoned, including over generations.
A second focus of the volume is how early care practices are related to the social and moral culture of a society. This volume includes an interdisciplinary set of contributors some of whom are able to provide insight into early experience in different cultures. A focus on hunter-gatherer contexts where evolved social mammalian childrearing practices are more common will assist us in discerning what is normal or even optimal social development. Anthropological research demonstrates that different parenting styles influence cultural personality as well (Fry, 2006). Examining the details of several foraging hunter gatherer societies in regards to parenting, personality, social relations and morality may offer insights into how these features relate to one another.