- The Nature & Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America by Marga Vicedo
The power of the mother to mold the child, to determine the shape of the future adult’s mental health, in positive or negative ways, is a common trope in U.S. culture. (Think Anthony Perkins in the film Psycho.) Vicedo’s The Nature & Nurture of Love carefully teases out the many layers of its scientific exploration in the Cold War. Vicedo begins with the commonly accepted history that places the research of John Bowlby and Karl Lorenz at the center of these developments, but then, most critically, she details how these and other scientists presented their theories to the scientific community and argued them.
Researchers like Bowlby and Lorenz did not work in isolation. Vicedo’s study draws out how these scientists built on each other’s findings and worked in concert to promote their theories. A prime example of this analysis is chapter 3, in which Vicedo places the question of the maternal role in the social and cultural context of the United States in the 1950s, with women’s employment outside the home increasing, with concern over the rising divorce rate, and with fears over growing rates of juvenile delinquency. She then documents the path by which Bowlby integrated Lorenz’s ethology into his psychological theories, in effect defining mother love and love of mother as biological instincts. In doing so, she explains, Bowlby sought to answer his opponents and to realize Freud’s belief that someday biology would clarify the idea of instinct. This gave the mother the primary role in the child’s development, and equated maternal care with biology. The stay-at-home mother was required both to meet her child’s emotional needs and to satisfy society’s need for order.
These theories generated vigorous support but also vehement opposition. Other chapters deal with the opposition Bowlby and Lorenz faced. In examining Lorenz’s theories in greater depth and examining the arguments of those who rejected his interpretation of behavior, Vicedo traces out the steps that researchers such as Daniel Lehrman and Robert Hinde took to critique Lorenz’s claims [End Page 584] and go beyond them to a more nuanced understanding of behavior. Similarly, she demonstrates how Bowlby was received by Freudian analysts such as Anna Freud, Max Shur, and René Spitz. Critics like these came to believe that accepting Bowl-by’s perspective would require that they reject the foundations of psychoanalysis, that “by employing a purely biological concept, Bowlby was backtracking from Freud’s advances” (p. 139). Mary Ainsworth’s “strange situation” experiments, in which a mother left her child in the presence of a stranger, were another example of observational/experimental research used in the debates over attachment theory. A particularly strong chapter focuses on the research of Harry Harlow in which he fashioned surrogate mothers out of cloth or wire for rhesus monkeys. It is often assumed that Harlow’s work provided experimental evidence for the theories of Bowlby and Lorenz. Yet, Vicedo shows, Harlow himself felt that his work disproved or at least questioned the biological foundations presupposed in the work of Bowlby and Lorenz. The chapter also describes public reaction to the news reports about Harlow’s experiments in which we see how scientific results get interpreted, or misinterpreted, in the media.
The Nature & Nurture of Love is an astute but uneven presentation of the development and argumentation around attachment theory. Vicedo integrates the responses of contemporaries into her discussion of various theories, most especially when dissecting with Bowlby and Lorenz. But her discussion of Ainsworth focuses more on her relationship with Bowlby and Vicedo’s critique of Ainsworth’s research than how contemporaries viewed this research. In her treatment of Harlow, we learn much about how the public responded to media presentations of his work; but we learn little about the public response to Bowlby and Lorenz, who are the focus of...