Gorilla Encounter—A Profound Example of the Attachment Behavioral System in the Wild

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You see or hear about these examples all the time—elephants, horses, dolphins, gorillas. But this YouTube example below is particularly profound in my opinion. I would suggest that this example points out why John Bowlby was so influenced by ethology (the study of animal behavior) as he developed his theory of attachment. Back in September of 2011, I noted that primatologist, Dario Maestripieri, writing in his book Primate Psychology tells us that Robert Hinde’s interest in …

… primate research was sparked by John Bowlby, who encouraged him to set up a colony of rhesus monkeys. In addition to training and supervising a whole generation of primate fieldworkers, Hinde had a great influence on primate behavior research with his own work on mother-infant relationships in rhesus macaques. … [F]or decades [Hinde] was one of the most articulate propoents of the conceptual integration between biological and psychological approaches to the study of behavior.

It’s too bad but most post-Bowlbians have all but forgotten the close connection between ethology and attachment theory. “What exactly created this split or separation?” you may well ask. Here’s what I wrote back in 2011:

Maestripieri reveals that one very important factor “was the rapid progress of biological disciplines such as genetics, molecular biology, and neuroscience and the growing popularity of scientific reductionism.” Maestripieri gives us this “bottom line”: “[T]he success of neuroscience led to the optimistic view that many important questions about behavior would eventually be answered by studies of brain anatomy and function, thus rendering [naturalistic] behavioral research less necessary.”

Simply, scientific reductionism has created a rift between attachment research and ethology, a rift that I do not imagine will ever be repaired. But as the following YouTube video reminds us, it’s almost impossible to study the attachment behavioral system without also studying not only animal behavior but also animal–human relationships. And these naturalistic studies cannot be carried out within the artificial confines of a brain scanner.

As you watch this video, notice one thing: the overarching continuity of the attachment relationship over an extended period of time (in this case, five years). It is that continuity, that attachment relationship that is the “body model” upon which EF or executive functioning is built. While EF is so much about the explicit future, Bowlby’s Inner Working Models of attachment are about the implied future (its loss the central fuel of mourning). Scientific reductionism does many things, but it does one thing very well: it strips body out of the equation. It’s a video like this that reminds us how important body is to the attachment behavioral system and its focus on the implicit future. Simply, from an evolutionary perspective, body implies future.

Enjoy! (This video profiles work being done by the Aspinall Foundation.)