Whenever you do some reading of maternal bonding, motherhood and attachment you will come across the name Konrad Lorenz, a world famous ethologist, this is a zoologist who studies the behavior of animals in their natural habitats. He is also a Nobel Prize winner.
When he discovered that newly hatched birds would follow him rather than their own mother if they first lay eyes on him. The real mother would be utterly ignored. Being a mother would not be relevant. He called it ‘pragung’ (German), which became ‘imprinting’, in English and later on bonding.
Now I repeat that the research done on maternal bonding by Konrad Lorenz was only done on birds because in some literature the insinuation towards men is sometimes shamefully clear.
More research on Maternal Bonding
Other men (and no women here) have imprinted before Lorenz. In ancient Greece Pliny the Elder wrote in A.D. 27 of a goose that followed his friend Lacydes faithfully (Naturalis Historia, x). In the 7th century, St. Cuthbert, the protector of birds and other wildlife must have left numerous imprints on winged friends. One of the biographers of Cuthbert, the monk Reginald, wrote that his bird friends were submitted ‘as if they were his slaves’. But again bird research. In the 16th century, Sir Thomas More described the same phenomena in his Utopia.
And after Lorenz came many more researchers on maternal bonding who became passionate at imprinting geese, ducks, chicks, pheasants, partridges, plovers, moorhens, terns, doves, pigeons, eagle owls, and corncrakes.
Modern Bonding Science by Whitman and Spalding
C. O. Whitman (Craig 1908) turned the imprinting to another use with nonprecocial (precocial species hatch with eyes open and are more quickly independant), or altricial (hatch with eyes closed) species. He first crossed two species of pigeons, he would then rear the young of one species with foster parents of the other species. He proved that when fully grown, pigeons with foster parents of a different species preferred to mate with that species rather than of their own species.
Now, it is important to take the matter of bonding not too leisurely. It is a precise event that does not occur haphazardly. Because you need to get at it early. In 1873, a gentleman called Douglas Spalding would be the first to say that the imprinting needs to occur within a certain time frame. He came to that conclusion when he hooded chickens for 3 days. If he unveiled the hood within 3 days they would follow him, after 3 days they would be extremely fearful (and here the comparisons with humans was luckily for some, never made). Being a mother was also a question of timing.
Eckhard Hess of the University of Chicago -although his research te can take this bonding information or imprinting as a fact. This is for birds at least the case. However, it has gone beyond the bird research. People generalized quickly. People see it now as a well known fact that early life experiences play a decisive role in the formation of an animal’s or a person’s affectional system (e.g., se studies by Dr Bowlby in 1951; Dr. Harlow in 1958; Dr Harlow in 1962 again). Techniques in bird research were more advanced and were uninterrupted for 25 years- came to a similar conclusion.
So we can take this bonding information or imprinting as a fact. This is for birds at least the case. But bonding and maternal bonding is not the same. We generally believe maternal bonding exists because scientists have proven bonding with birds. However, it has gone beyond the bird research. People generalized quickly. People see it now as a well known fact that early life experiences play a decisive role in the formation of an animal’s or a person’s affectional system (e.g., studies by Dr Bowlby in 1951; Dr. Harlow in 1958; Dr Harlow in 1962 again).
And… the bird research shows that the bonding was not maternal bonding at all. In most cases a man (often the gender of the researcher at the time) was ‘mother’.
Konrad Lorenz wrote in 1997 another book “King Solomon’s Rig: New Light on Animal’s Ways”, and it is a real gem of a book. The father of ethology knows off course a thing or two about the study of animal behavior, but it is not a ‘scientific book’ and still provides a surprising amount of fascinating information in a small, short book, with wonderful drawings and cute stories.