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The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America [Format Kindle]

Marga Vicedo

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The notion that maternal care and love will determine a child’s emotional well-being and future personality has become ubiquitous. In countless stories and movies we find that the problems of the protagonists—anything from the fear of romantic commitment to serial killing—stem from their troubled relationships with their mothers during childhood. How did we come to hold these views about the determinant power of mother love over an individual’s emotional development? And what does this vision of mother love entail for children and mothers?


In The Nature and Nurture of Love, Marga Vicedo examines scientific views about children’s emotional needs and mother love from World War II until the 1970s, paying particular attention to John Bowlby’s ethological theory of attachment behavior. Vicedo tracks the development of Bowlby’s work as well as the interdisciplinary research that he used to support his theory, including Konrad Lorenz’s studies of imprinting in geese, Harry Harlow’s experiments with monkeys, and Mary Ainsworth’s observations of children and mothers in Uganda and the United States. Vicedo’s historical analysis reveals that important psychoanalysts and animal researchers opposed the project of turning emotions into biological instincts. Despite those substantial criticisms, she argues that attachment theory was paramount in turning mother love into a biological need. This shift introduced a new justification for the prescriptive role of biology in human affairs and had profound—and negative—consequences for mothers and for the valuation of mother love.

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  • Format : Format Kindle
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  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 332 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 022602055X
  • Editeur : University of Chicago Press; Édition : Reprint (16 mai 2013)
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2.0 étoiles sur 5 In defense of young mothers who work 12 août 2013
Par Paul F. Ross - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Review of Vicedo's "The nature & nurture of love" by Paul F. Ross

Marga Vicedo's book is delightful and exasperating, important yet very much missing its mark, an indicator of what the history of science can do to help scientists and society gain perspective and a botched demonstration of that capability.

Vicedo points to America's culture post WWII (actually pointing to a worldwide view of the responsibilities of motherhood), describes how scientists from biology (Lorenz), psychiatry and psychoanalysis (Bowlby), psychology, and social work justified the notion that a mother's link with her infant children (named "attachment theory") is key to those children's future mental and social health as well as

Vicedo, Marga The nature & nurture of love: From imprinting to attachment in cold war America 2013, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago IL, ix + 321 pages

to their effectiveness as parents to their own children, made it clear that the importance and time demands for this link did not allow working outside the home while the children were infants, put day care for infants and pre-schoolers outside the boundary of what was good for children, and reinforced the classic image of the nuclear family with mom as stay-at-home provider of child care and dad as economic provider. Vicedo then reviews much evidence from those same sciences refuting Lorenz' and Bowlby's point of view. The point of Vicedo's book is to say that attachment theory is wrong. I'm convinced she is right. Attachment theory is wrong. Still, attachment theory seems to be driving much research in child care today. Vicedo's history does not replace the bad guidance it finds in attachment theory with pointers to the right kind of child care as currently seen.

What a mess, the ideas in this book ... although an interesting mess. The clash between ontology, phylogenetics, and epistemology is presented in the setting of child care, interesting to a wide audience. Don't know those words? Dictionaries help. Don't stop reading this review! Messy as Vicedo's book is, this review can help you enjoy her book, understand the issues, sort through the mess, respect what you've learned, and see some of the issues associated with generating and then publishing science. Vicedo's history describing a tiny corner of science (science as it bears on child care), influential corner though it may be, provides an interesting back room tour of the scientific enterprise and its intersection with how you can know truth when you see it.

Marga Vicedo writes from her chair as an associate professor at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto and describes the theory of mom-ism in America (or so she and her sources tell us) as it evolved post WWII under the intellectual leadership of Konrad Lorenz of Austria, biologist, Nickolaas Tinbergen of The Netherlands, biologist, John Bowlby of Britain, psychoanalyst, Harry Harlan of America, psychologist and primatologist, and Mary Ainsworth of America, social worker. According to Vicedo's history, attachment theory, still influential today, became influential in America through the psychoanalysts - led particularly by Bowlby from his position as chief author of a report about child rearing issued by the World Health Organization in 1951 - and had its flowering during the Cold War, was even boosted by some of the issues faced during conscription as America armed for WWII.

Vicedo did her bachelor's, master's, and first doctorate in the history of science at the University of Valencia, Spain, her degrees awarded in 1984 - 1987, then completed a doctorate in the history of science at Harvard University in 2005. Her curriculum vitae reports a decade of teaching (1991-2001) at the University of Salamanca and at the University of Arizona. She did a post-Harvard-doctoral-fellowship at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin (2005-2006) before moving to the University of Toronto.

The book's contents

Accomplishing an introduction, eight chapters, and a conclusion in 231 pages of text, Vicedo's Chapter 1 introduces us to her book. I finished that chapter not knowing where she was heading, what her real questions were. Chapter 2 tells us of the work of biologists-ethologists Lorenz and Tinbergen, the imprinting of just-hatched birds on their mothers or, sometimes, on the first creature they see that moves such as a human ... imprinting being the beginning of an explanation for the love an infant holds for its mother. Chapter 3 introduces us to Bowlby, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who, from his position of leadership in bringing together the findings about research on childhood at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, became influential in psychoanalytic circles in America. Chapter 4 reviews criticisms of attachment theory from ontogeny (Daniel Lehrman; ontogeny concerns itself with the development of an organism from fertilization through maturity). Chapter 5 reviews criticisms of attachment theory from psychoanalysis (Anna Freud, Max Shur, Rene Spitz). Chapter 6 presents psychologist and primatologist Harry Harlow's work with attachment theory as demonstrated in experiments with rhesus monkeys, some of which evidence Bowlby accepted as supporting attachment theory and some of which Bowlby conveniently overlooked. Chapter 7 reviews Mary Ainsworth's work observing mother-child pairs in Uganda and in Baltimore MD. Chapter 8 examines how the biologists-ethologists, the psychoanalysts, the psychologists-primatologists, and the social worker reinforced each other. In her Conclusion, Vicedo finally gets to her point. Attachment theory is wrong. It dominates current research in child care as Eyer reports writing "In the twenty years between 1974 and 1994, some 3,535 attachment studies were published and the annual rate of publication grew from 35 in 1975 to 280 in 1993" (Eyer, 1996). (Why does Vicedo not update Eyer's data to at least 2010? It takes only an hour or so to do. Vicedo is not numbers oriented. She loves reporting people's opinions obtained from documents.)

Attachment theory is not the first fad, nor will it be the last, that dominates scientific work for what real scientists always hope is a brief period of time ... although half a century and more, in this case, hardly qualifies as "brief." That criticisms of attachment theory have gained little traction, despite being published, illustrates the continuing problem of "knowledge silos" whose walls cannot be penetrated (e.g. biology is beyond criticism, psychology cannot penetrate psychoanalysis, statistics and research design cannot penetrate any of them) and "scientific pecking order," views widely held even by educated people, an orthodoxy beyond challenge (e.g. biology is superior to psychiatry which is superior to psychology which is superior to social work, considering only the actors involved in this particular story about science).

Two aspects of Vicedo's report win my admiration. She follows the development of attachment theory in its chronological order ... and that allows the reader to understand "how things stood" as each new protagonist enters the story. Vicedo digs into the archives of private correspondence by the principals and reports that things in the private world of science were not always what they appeared to be in public.

Would that the multiple requirements of good science ... of new work built upon prior work by others retrieved from all relevant fields, research design properly conceived and executed, data properly collected, data taken from individuals that represent a population to which the scientist wishes to generalize the findings, the best of hard-won rules being followed with respect to how one recognizes truth when one sees it (epistemology) ... these being some of the elements of doing good science that are common to all sciences ... were represented in the research that developed attachment theory and were carefully laid down by Vicedo as yardsticks as she evaluates the research leading to attachment theory. The rules are too often violated. The rules apply to all sciences and recognize no scientific pecking order, no science that can overlook the rules, no science that is "more scientific" than all the others.

Vicedo's treatise does address the barriers to women's right to work, the guilt improperly heaped upon moms who ask others to help with infant care as they fill the roles of spouses, moms, and working people. Vicedo does this by pointing to the flaws in Lorenz' and Bowlby's and Ainsworth's science ... when, in my view, the real impediments to understanding supportive child care and women's rights to work are (1) inadequate support for research in the behavioral and management sciences, (2) inadequate quality control of the science that gets published, (3) a widely accepted view, even among the best educated university graduates, that the behavioral and management sciences are not sciences and have nothing of importance to say, and (4) the worldwide attitude that "woman's place is in the home" and "women do not need the education that men need." In my view, Lorenz and Bowlby had no important influence in forming these barriers to solid science in child care and women's rights to their own lives and careers.

Vicedo's insight into "American culture"

I ordered Vicedo's book the day I saw its review in Science in early June 2013 (Harris, 2013). Puzzled as I began reading the book in July, I finally decided the book is a contribution to "feminist studies" ... so I looked for that phrase in the book's subject index. The phrase does not appear there! The phrase "feminist studies" had not been used in Harris' review in Science. The phrase does not appear in the testimonies of academic colleagues presented on the back of the book's dust cover, testimonies designed to help sell the book. I decided that Vicedo avoided using the phrase since she suspected its use would reduce the sales of the book. The editor at the University of Chicago Press must have agreed. I wondered whether, as a reviewer, I'd best not use the overlooked phrase. The phrase is widely used to describe course content in university curricula.

Vicedo's account indicates that "attachment theory" increasingly has guided child care advice in America since WWII. She makes this claim primarily from analyses published by other historians.

My own journey through graduate school in the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University, concluding with my Ph.D. in 1955 in psychology applied to life at work, statistics, measuring behavior, research design - that is, helping individuals and organizations perform at their very best (not psychoanalysis, not clinical psychology, not child behavior) - had given me not even a brushing acquaintance with the flowering influence of Bowlby on American child-rearing practices and points of view. My wife's and my experience as young parents to children born in New Jersey and Connecticut in 1956 - 1961... our nuclear family then living briefly in Ontario and throughout the remainder of our children's maturation in Massachusetts, my wife and I reading Spock about child rearing and Gesell and Ilg about childhood developmental stages while we were parenting infants ... had not introduced me to the influence of Lorenz (and his work with geese) and Harlow (and his work with monkeys) as their work should influence how my wife and I should be handling our children. I knew of both Lorenz' work and Harlow's work at that time, but only as interesting examples of current scientific activities, not as important guideposts for child rearing. Our youngest having reached six years of age in 1967, my wife returned to her profession as a high school teacher, I did my sciences and management consulting and travel, and we together did our parenting. Reading Vicedo's history now, I have to wonder if Vicedo understands what influenced child-rearing in America during the late twentieth century. I fear Vicedo got lost in the library, other people's misinformation, and caches of famous people's correspondence. I did not experience, nor did I see in other young families, the influence of Lorenz, Bowlby, and Ainsworth on advice to young parents. While my wife and I felt the skepticism associated with having both mom and dad engaged in their professions, we moved forward with confidence, watching our children very carefully, and suspect that their rearing has aided, not damaged, their mature lives. American culture in the twentieth century's second half was in the process of having women continue at work (for which they had gained a taste during WWII). The number of women participants in the workforce was increasing, Bowlby's advice being overlooked ... not even known to most young parents. Women have not been welcomed to any and all roles and professions, given equal treatment with men in the workplace in America and in most other parts of the world. But I sincerely doubt that it was Bowlby's advice that seriously influenced the "unwelcome" sign for women hung in workplaces and offices in America in the late twentieth century, signs that too often hang there now and that hang in workplaces and offices around the world.

Getting published in science

Getting published in science is associated with who you know and your employer's name and business. It is not the consequence of fair competition in the marketplace of scientific work, the highest quality science and the most valuable science being published. Consensus between two peers in reviewing scientific manuscripts offered for publication shares less than nine percent of the variance in their recommendation to "publish" or "not publish" the manuscript reviewed. Over ninety one percent of peer views about new work is unshared. I have demonstrated that fifteen minutes of a peer's time in recording his/her judgments about a manuscript can increase that consensus tenfold to more than eighty percent, but, having tried in more than half a dozen prominent journals, cannot publish that information. Continuing current practice means the editor can find a reason to publish and a reason to not publish, leaving the publication decision very much to the editor's personal judgment. These are empirical findings from research, too much of it unpublished, research that cannot be described at length here. We do, however, have in hand two examples of publications that could have been much better than they were.

Ben Harris (Harris, 2013), Department of Psychology, University of New Hampshire, provides a crystal clear one-page sketch of the message in Vicedo's book in his review in Science. Harris also writes, incorrectly, that "Vicedo's analysis of scientific evidence is thorough enough to be used in a course on research methodology." Vicedo understands much about scientific method, but her writing is so unclear that her book is even a poor negative example for students about the nature of good research. Harris also writes "Put on the witness stand, instinctual attachment theory does not acquit itself well." He's right about that. Harris fails to describe the flaws in Vicedo's work that are reported in this review. Harris reports no flaws at all. Why is the reviewer of Vicedo's book for Science based in a department of psychology rather than based on the child care frontier of practice ... say in a hospital center for the short term care of acutely disturbed teenagers? ... or a pediatrician's office? ... or a professor's chair preparing pediatricians for their careers? ... or a high school counselor's chair? Are scientists responsible only to fellow scientists?

Vicedo's organization and line of thought are so poorly thought through and expressed that one wonders if she is thoroughly acculturated in English from what may have been her native Spanish youth and early maturity. One wonders whether the reader's sense of "get to the point" while reading Vicedo prompted the editor at the University of Chicago Press to ask Vicedo to compose and place at the beginning Vicedo's Chapter 1. It is neither a good overview nor a helpful introduction to what follows. One wonders sometimes whether Vicedo understands the way science digs for truth and the expectations scientists have about the methods used to accumulate scientific insights and present persuasively scientific conclusions. Vicedo's book is not an easily read, orderly account. Why do peer readers of Vicedo's manuscript not question whether Vicedo's sense that the "American culture" in child rearing in the late twentieth century was heavily influenced by Bowlby? Why do peer readers of Vicedo's manuscript not question whether the rejection rate for draftees in WWII for reasons of mental stability was a major influence in producing America's interest in child care during infancy for the next half century? (Was not the post WWII baby boom a better explanation for the widespread interest in child care?) The University of Chicago Press has some prior publishing history in support of psychoanalysis. A "soft spot" for Vicedo's examination of psychoanalytically-related work may have allowed the publication of her book.

At the intersection of cultural wisdom and science

Vicedo, as an historian, thinks she can understand science based upon its historical traces without thoroughly understanding science's expectations of itself. The Lorenz-Bowlby-Ainsworth stream of "scientific" conclusions has been unjustified scientifically, seems to have been immune to criticism, has been a burden on the freedom of women to pursue motherhood and careers effectively and simultaneously, and in that report Vicedo is correct. Vicedo's work is not the clear, relevant, consistently well-based, well expressed thinking that is needed to reach its intended audiences ... the educated, about-to-become-parents, women and men of today's world and the scientifically-based professionals who guide them in child care.

Bellevue, Washington
12 August 2013

Copyright © 2013 by Paul F. Ross. All rights reserved.


1. Eyer, Diane E. Motherguilt: How our culture blames mothers for what's wrong with society 1996,
Random House, New York NY
2. Harris, Ben "Mother, love" Science, 2013, 340, 926
3. Vicedo, Marga The nature & nurture of love: From imprinting to attachment in cold war America 2013,
The University of Chicago Press, Chicago IL
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