inclusive education

How Caroll Gilligan re-defined care ethics and inclusive education

‘In A Different Voice’: Gender and Children’s Moral Development

In the 1980s, professional psychology was at a crossroads. Facing an active women’s movement and growing criticism of its male-dominated theories of personality and development, the discipline was ripe for change. To that end, psychologist Carol Gilligan published In A Different Voice in 1982. It was the first of many scholarly works by Gilligan that would tackle difficult issues of childhood development, girls education, inclusive education and moral integrity.

The book rapidly took the world by storm, becoming a bestseller within weeks of its release, and had a tremendous impact on our thoughts today. Especially on inclusive education. What drove the success of In A Different Voice was its open defiance of psychology’s stubborn male bias and Gilligan’s confident portrayal of the merits of inclusive education and of a more feminine approach to boys and girls education in morality.

Western psychologists have long assumed the male mode of morality is the correct one. In this book, Gilligan invites us to reconsider the merits of a traditionally feminine relational ethics — a morality of mutual care, rooted in interpersonal responsibility.

Psychology hasn’t been the same since. And I must admit this book and her concept of ‘care’ influenced my thoughts more than others.

Care ethics and inclusive education

Inspired by Carol Gilligan’s work on care ethics,  ethics shifted  away from relations between citizens to close relationships with emotional bonds, like friends, lovers, mothers and children.
With emotional relations, people respond to each other as unique individuals, not as general human beings. Here people will be  more vulnerable to indifference, unkindness and abandonment.
And, personal relationships are not always reciprocal. There may be temporarily or long term dependency on one of them. In those contexts, then, moral reciprocity is not reducible to equal respect or equal contribution.

Sex Differences in Moral Development

Research consistently shows that girls and women tend to make moral judgments differently from boys and men. The empirical differences can generally be observed in children by the time they’re old enough to attend school.

For girls, morality happens in relationships. Girls tend to see moral issues as arising and resolving within a network of interdependent social relations. Moral conflicts are taken as crises of responsibility and failures of communication. From the female perspective, conflict resolution is understood to hinge on the building-up and renewal of critical ties. The best solution serves both oneself and the greater good.

In contrast, boys are more likely to explore the philosophical basis of moral judgments. They seek to weigh the relative importance of competing elements in an abstract hierarchy of value. The element with the greatest value ‘wins.’

For boys, morality is a calculus of individualism, natural rights, and adjudicated fairness. Universal laws govern across situations. The masculine stable state contrasts with a feminized morality distinguished by its willingness to bend the rules to accommodate a solution that pleases everyone, no matter how innovative. While boys may believe one can always deduce the ‘right’ answer, girls may contend there is no single answer that is always correct.

One can also see emerge the true value of inclusive education.

Harvard’s ‘Little Book That Started a Revolution’

Gilligan does not challenge the existence of the observed sex differences in moral development. Rather, she takes issue with their interpretation. Women’s emphasis on relationships has been cast as a developmental liability – but why?

Relational morality, feminine by association, has been dismissed as inferior, she writes, because it deviates from the terms of male moral thought. But mere difference does not imply disability. It’s not clear that rejection of interpersonal responsibility is constructive for either boys or girls education.

In fact, Gilligan proposes, the undervalued female perspective may be just what we need to make better moral decisions.

Gilligan is not trying to say that only women are in tune with relationships, or that the ethics of responsibility will save us all. Nor does she believe the ethics of care is the opposite of the ethics of justice. She argues, rather, that development is incomplete without the sense of mutual responsibility, in both sexes. A worldview that hails separation and autonomy while neglecting relationships is jaundiced for what it lacks. The importance and value of inclusive education and an inclusive world for that matter can again not be better underlined.

Lessons for Moms: Girls Education and Teaching Interdependence

For mothers, Gilligan’s lessons are profound and practical. In A Different Voice expands our idea of healthy moral development to include proactive affirmation of one’s responsibility for others’ happiness and well-being.

This is not to say it is wrong to teach individualism in girls education. Your daughter is distinct from her peers, and she will hopefully grow into an understanding of self that honors her personal boundaries and unique identity. But it’s just as true that her self is interdependent with others, knowable through the intricacies of relationship and dialogue.

In the end, humans are social beings – responsive and relational at our core. For Gilligan, it makes sense to encourage this style of thinking in girls education. For boys too, we can instill a balanced ethics, inclusive of humanist interconnection. We can show our kids that they are deeply linked to their community, and their success need not come at others’ expense.

Ethics + Gender: Food For Thought

Don’t worry if little Johnny cries when he gets in a spat with his best buddy, or tiny Sally is determined to become a hard-hitting lawyer steeped in justice morality. Gilligan’s book comes with an important caveat: your mileage may vary. Either moral approach may spontaneously develop in either sex, in any configuration. And that’s okay.

In A Different Voice does not propose a dogma of gendered morality or for inclusive education or approach. Instead, it shows us how addressing gender inequality leads to a stronger vision of ethical development in boys and girls education.

Together, masculine and feminine ethics can be the building blocks of a complete moral system. Synthesized within a child’s moral universe, the combination of rights and responsibilities makes a powerful tool for grappling with some of life’s toughest realities.

inclusive education
Mother’s Kiss, Mary Cassatt, 1890–91, Metropolitan Museum of Art
parenting style

Schreber’s Parenting Style Was About Unconditional Obedience and Harsh Discipline

“You will be master of the child forever. From then on, a glance, a word, a single threatening gesture will be sufficient to control the child,”

said Dr. Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber, about mastering the crying baby through frightening it.

Parenting style

Schreber was not a madman who took pleasure in torturing babies. He was a world famous German pedagogue and child psychiatrist wrote many childcare books promoting his parenting style between 1850 and 1860. He was a physician, later a university teacher at the University of Leipzig and director of the Leipzig‘s sanatorium and was seen as a child psychiatrist. He was read widely in France, England, and America and his parenting style was very famous. He really became a rare authority on childcare in Germany which went through forty reprints of his books from 1858 till 1950’s. His success in giving advice on parenting style was unmatched for several decades, and it still has some ripple effect today.

The manuals on education and his parenting style explained in a step-by-step method how to create obedient children from day one, through a systematic approach close to torture. The method had to be applied with the newborn baby who should be drilled from the very first day to obey and refrain from crying.

Stroking, cuddling and kissing were forbidden and entire generations of Germans went without direct, loving contact with their parents. Today’s extensive research into attachment theory makes clear the damage done by such parenting style.

Unconditional obedience through harsh discipline

His own words, from his book Education towards Beauty by Natural and Balanced Furtherance of Normal Body Growth written in 1858 are the best ticket into his mind:

“Joined to the feeling of law, a feeling of impossibility of struggling against the law; a child’s obedience, the basic condition for all further education, is thus solidly founded for the time to come… The most generally necessary condition for moral will power and character is the unconditional obedience of the child.” (p. 135)

When the child psychiatrist talked about his parenting style and more particularly the caring for infants under five he uses words like law, control and will power. He was all about harsh discipline and for babies that would start with cold baths and constant discomfort.

“The noble seeds of human nature sprout upwards in their purity almost on their own if the ignoble ones, the weeds, are sought out and destroyed in time. This must be done ruthlessly and vigorously. It is a dangerous error to believe that flaws in a child’s character will disappear by themselves. (…) A child’s misbehaviour will become in the adult a serious fault in character and opens the way to vice and baseness.” (p. 140)

A child could not be the responsibility of a women

There were still many Schreberian children, as they were called, around by the 1920’s when Nazism came around. He was one of the many reasons why fascism was easier in Germany than in other countries. The time for sense and sensibility personified by women was over. In his totalitarian attitude and parenting style one could easily detect sexism.

“To form a protective wall against the unhealthy predominance of the emotional side against that feeble sensitiveness – the disease of our age, which must be recognized as the usual reason for the increasing frequency of depression, mental illness, and suicide.” (p. 281)

The father would be the absolute ruler, an open door to homemade and familiar despotism.

“No wife with common sense and good will want to oppose his decisive voice.”

A child could not be the responsibility of a women:

“If one wants a planned upbringing based on principles to flourish, the father above anyone else must hold the reins of upbringing in his hands…. The main responsibility for the whole result of upbringing always belongs to the father…” (p.32)

Schreber was a self-declared child psychiatrist  but above all a fine business man and along with his books and parenting style came a series of merchandise goodies. One could choose belts to tie children tightly in bed or a head holder with chin clamp to hold a head straight or straight holder to sit up in a chair or shoulder bands to keep the shoulders nicely back. Or you could buy the lot. Schreber opened gymnastics all over Germany and members had Schreber magazines to be kept up to date. That must have given him even a greater authority to speak so confidently on mothering and parenting style.

He was extremely successful and the approval of Freud of the appropriately called Schreber system from this child psychiatrist might have helped also. The fact that his two sons got insane and that one got therapy by Freud himself did not impress people much because by 1958 there were still two million people member of the Schreber association.

parenting style
The Daughters of Catulle Mendès, Auguste Renoir, 1888, Credit Line The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection 1998
child psychologists

Childcare courses emerge early 20th century with the first child psychologists

As the science of Psychology developed in the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of maternal instinct took a backseat. Childcare was not left to chance any longer. There were now all these experts in childcare like child psychologists who would explain matters. The very concept of methodologically explaining how to care for babies and children was unknown. Books and childcare courses came into existence.

Emergence of Childcare courses and Child psychologists

“The key to childcare is a good character.”

said John Watson (1878 – 1958), not John H. Watson known as Dr. Watson the fictional character in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but John B. Watson, one of the first great American child psychologists.  He was a great believer of this idea. To produce a fine character very strict discipline was needed, and as early as possible. He believed, in childcare nothing is instinctual.

Watson established the psychological school of Behaviorism back in 1913 when he published the article Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It called The Behaviorist Manifesto. With Behaviorism, Watson put the emphasis on external behavior of people and their reactions on given situations, rather than the internal, mental state of those people.

Watson is one the child psychologists that stands on the side of Nurture in the Nature-Nurture debate. Watson said that

“nothing is instinctual; rather everything is built into a child through the interaction with their environment. Parents therefore hold complete responsibility since they choose what environment to allow their child to develop in.” (Watson, Psychological Care of Infant and Child, 1928)

With this in mind, Watson influenced child psychologists but also childcare literature substantially in this first part of the twentieth century and childcare courses emerged. Watson wrote extensively on child-rearing in many popular magazines and his book Psychological Care of Infant and Child (1928). To Watson, behaviorism was based on the idea that a methodology could transform psychology into a science. He knew better than others how to bring forth ‘people of great character’ and tried to make a science of it. In his words

“It is quite easy to start habits of day time continence when the child is from 3-5 weeks old by putting the chamber pot to the child each time it is aroused for feeding. It is quite surprising how quickly the conditional response is established if your routine is unremitting and your patience holds out.”

Watson was among the child psychologists that believed that sentimentality kept mothers of sticking to the routine and the childcare courses. Mothers needed to remain detached and never show any kind of warmth or sympathy let alone favoritism.

“There is a sensible way of treating children. Treat them as though they were young adults. Dress them, bathe them with care and circumspection. Let your behavior always be objective and kindly firm. Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead, when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task. Try it out. In a week’s time you will find how easy it is to be perfectly objective with your child and at the same time kindly. You will be utterly ashamed of the mawkish, sentimental way you have been handling it.” (Watson, Psychological Care of Infant and Child, 1928)

In the 1920s, Watson allotted fathers half an hour with their children:

“It keeps the children used to male society. They have a chance to ply him with questions.”

Watson researched many topics in his career, but child-rearing became his most prized interest. His book Psychological Care of Infant and Child was extremely popular and many critics were surprised to see his contemporaries come to accept his views. The book of the first child psychologists sold 100,000 copies of these childcare courses after just a few months of release. Although Watson wrote extensively on child rearing, he later regretted, saying that to do a good job,

“he did not know enough”

First appearance of separation anxiety

There was also Truby King, another celebrity amongst child psychologists. His theories were originally aimed at reducing the infant death rate. Hygiene, breast feeding and strict schedules were the pillars of his evangile. Both the Schools for Mothers, set up by volunteers from 1908 onwards, and the childcare courses of the Mothercraft Training Society Truby King founded, set out to teach mothers to take care of their infants.

Truby King had a lasting influence on all children who were born between 1915 and 1950 in England and America. Together with Sir James Spencer, regarded as one of the best child psychologists, who set up the first mother-baby unit in 1927 and Susan Isaacs who wrote her first book in 1929 all messages in the childcare courses were always based on the mother child bond and were directed at getting the relation tighter. The mother was encouraged to be with children who have a desperate need to be understood by them. To be separated from the mother had now a deep psychological and physical effect on the child.

Childcare courses evolve into Child Science

In 1923 The Mothercraft Manual by Mabel Liddiard based on the same principles of childcare courses was a popular book. It has run twelve editions, and still available today. Liddiard, one of the first female child psychologists, believed in the existence and the importance of a natural, maternal instinct in women but it was

“no adequate basis on which to build a home and raise a family.”

She needed to be trained through childcare courses and thought precise rules of how to be a mother if

“she was to give her best.”

The Manual aimed to help mothers carry out these duties and provided also with daily schedules for living that included precise times of waking, feeding, bathing and even playing.

These times child rearing was not light pass time. No, it was about ‘training’ and ‘doing a good job’. After all they needed to become properly disciplined and hardworking adults. The Watsonian fashion told women to commit and to see their motherhood as serious business.

In these folly twenties, it was amongst the same women that would now have taken on further education that there was a return of domesticity. Further education in some colleges would now include classes on homemaking and childcare courses. At Vassar college, a historically sister institution of the Ivy League colleges and at the time one of the most reputed women-only college, there would be a series of courses like Husband and Wife, Motherhood, The Family as an Economic Unit. Women could learn to be gracious and intelligent at the same time. The head of one of the colleges would have said in his speech:

“One of the chief ends of a college for women is to fit them to become the makers of homes … whatever else a woman may be, the highest purpose of her life always has been … to strengthen and beautify and sanctify the home.” (according to The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic and Political Roles 1920-1970, writen by William Chafe, p. 104)

And in magazines we would read similar voices. William Chafe has made a study of the magazines of this period and there are many allusions of motherhood and how ‘natural’ it is. These magazines declared,

“Liberated women had thrown away the essence of femininity without putting anything else in its place.”

According to the journalists of this time,

“a woman’s career was to make a good marriage, to be deeply fundamentally, wholly feminine. Women, who demanded recognition for themselves were violating their own true nature”,


“once she accepted that big biologic fact that man was intended to be selfish and woman self-sacrificing the way to fulfillment was clear. Only if a woman rejected her natural identity would she have cause to experience dissatisfaction and despair”,

would be the explanation to grief and frustration.

Outsourcing babycare to child psychologists

But slowly the climate changed and it became possible for a woman to be an independent mind, to choose a career or a passion and pursue it on top of marriage and the responsibility of children. There were far less practical problems for these women at the time. They were helped at home with servants and nannies and it was still customary not to be with the child whatever the age around the clock. White upper class ladies did not spend that much time with their children as often recommended today. Both parents would never have thought that the mother (versus the caretaker) would need to spend more time with her children. This came later.

child psychologists

child development stages

Parenting Through the Cognitive Child Development Stages of Jean Piaget

Piaget said,

“Intelligence organizes the world by organizing itself.”

He would prove this methodically throughout his life. There are many parenting guides and techniques for new mothers and fathers to choose from to help them raise their child. One of the best sources and psychologists that have the most influential theories on child development stages  is Jean Piaget. He is seen as one of the major figures in developmental psychology. Jean Piaget’s child development stages are based on a child’s learning techniques due to the child’s hands on experience. A new parent can benefit from Piaget’s child development stages and help grasp the thought process of their child as they develop.

From Zoology to Psychology

Jean Piaget was a Swiss biologist who was a lifelong learner who earned his doctorate by the age of 21 and had published more than two dozen papers. After completing his doctorate, he changed his field of interest from biology to psychology, focusing on child development theories. He first studied in Zürich, under Carl Jung and Eugen Bleuler, and he then studied two more years at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1919. The school was run by Alfred Binet, the developer of the Binet intelligence Test, and Piaget helped creating these intelligence tests.

From Psychology to Child Learning

His interests grew more about how the child learned and observed while they worked on different exercises he set out for them. He was not interested in whether or not the children got the answers correct as in how they came up with the answers and how their answers changed as they grew older. He observed, talked, and listened to the children and became amazed at how different each one was based on their learning experiences. Piaget believed that children learned through hands on experience and through their successes and failures. In more than 50 books and monographs over his long career, he continued developing his theory, where the mind of the child evolves through set stages.

Piaget’s child development stages

Jean Piaget believed that children learned through different child development stages. Piaget called this theory the Theory of Cognitive Development. The Cognitive Development theory describes how children represent and reason about the world.The four stages of Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development are
  • Sensori-motor, which takes place from birth to 2 years of age,
  • Pre-operational. which is from 2 years to 7 years of age
  • Concrete operational, which begins at 7 years and continues to 11 years of age, and
  • Formal operational, which starts at 11 years of age and continues on up.

In each stage the child develops and learns new skills.

Sensori-motor stage

In the sensori-motor stage which is the very first stage, the child learns to differentiate between themselves and objects. A child at this child development stage learns to use their senses to discover the world. The child at this stage is able to react to touch, taste, smell, and sound of their mother and another human or object.The sensorimotor stage is divided into six substages:

  1. Simple reflexes; birth-1month. Reflexes like rooting and sucking.
    First habits and primary circular reactions; 1-4 months. The child learns to coordinate sensation with two forms of reactions: habit and primary circular reaction where the infant tries to reproduce an event that happened by accident (ex.: sucking thumb).
  2. Secondary circular reactions; 4-8 months. Awarenes of things beyond their body arises. Object-oriented.
  3. Coordination of secondary circular reactions; 8-12 months. Intentional action. They can now combine and recombine schemata to reach an objective. They now understand object permanence (objects continue to exist when unseen)
  4. Tertiary circular reactions, novelty, and curiosity;12-18months. Trying different schemata
  5. Internalization of schemata.

Pre-operational stage

In the second stage, the pre-operational stage, a child learns to use language and symbols to represent words and images. At this stage, the child still thinks of themselves as the center of the universe, very egocentric stage.
Symbolic Function Substag. 2-4 years. Use of symbols to represent physical models of the world. Observable in drawings.
Intuitive Thought Substage 4-7 years. Increase of curiosity and start of primitive reasoning.  Centration, conservation, irreversibility, class inclusion, and transitive inference. Piaget named it the “intuitive substage” because children realize they have a vast amount of knowledge, but they are unaware of how they acquired it.  (Santrock, John W. (2004). Life-Span Development (9th Ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill College – Chapter 8)

Concrete operational stage

The third stage, the concrete operational stage that begins at the age of 7 and lasts until the age of 11, is the stage where a child begins concrete thinking and can be very literal. The child is no longer egocentric and starts to understand and see things in the eyes of others. A child in this stage can think logically about objects and events.

Formal operational stage

Finally, the last stage, the formal operational stage is when a child becomes a young adult and can think in abstract ways, understanding and interacting on a more adult level. The adolescence becomes concerned and aware of hypothetical, future, and ideological problems.

The child development stages help parents understand their children better. At schools and in homes.

Piaget said

“The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”

Being a parent is an amazing gift, yet can be incredibly challenging at times. Remembering that every child learns differently based on what they are taught can help parents understand that not all children learn and grow at the same speed. Using Piaget’s theory of Cognitive Development will help a parent be more patient and understanding toward their child.

Among Piaget’s major works available in English are Le Langage et la pensée chez l’enfant (1923; The Language and Thought of the Child), La Naissance de l’intelligence chez l’enfant (1948; The Origins of Intelligence in Children), The Psychology of the Child, and Le Jugement et la raisonnement chez l’enfant (1924; Judgment and Reasoning in the Child). A great book that can help parents follow Piaget’s child development stages is called Your Baby’s Mind and How It Grows, Piaget’s Theory for Parents.

Following one of the many theories on child development  stages that psychologists created is a great way for parents to understand what their child is learning and developing in and at what rate is normal.

child development stages
Jean Piaget in Ann Arbor, Wikimedia CC2.0
maternal instinct

Maternal instinct, what do people mean when they talk about it?

Very few people really talk about maternal instinct in the biological sense. It is mostly used in more general conversations and hence it is part of our cultural language. However when people talk about the sexual instinct then they talk biologically. An instinct suggest a biological matter.

But then again, when people talk about maternal instinct they talk about a feeling. A feeling they have when they are having a baby. Or a feeling they think they will have. A feeling they think most mothers have. Or should have. Or ought to have if they are good mothers. In most cases people tend to talk about maternal instinct in an unconscious way. There is no thorough thought process. The words are part of a cultural language, like we have associations about religion or minority groups. The words people use for these also have a meaning that changes throughout time and place, in tune with changing societies. But in a specific time period and place, people do not ask whether maternal instinct is biologically or culturally determined. People assume they know the (absolute) meaning.

Most of the time people do not even think about the meaning of maternal instinct. Maternal instinct was most likely explained to them a long time ago or maybe not even that. People can assume the meaning because of the separate words and therefore assume existence. The meaning is very much linked to their own beliefs, their cultural language and their cultural definition of motherhood? Maternal instinct is redefined when the cultural associations change and most of the time this takes a generation or two.

When people of the women’s liberation movement talk about maternal instinct, most of the time, they refer to the biological standpoint. Most of them (especially during second wave feminism between the 1960′ and the 1980’s) believe that maternal instinct is created and or invented by male scientists and so they often discard the idea of maternal instinct. They can be profoundly critical of the very idea of maternal instinct but then they are talking about a different meaning of the word. The literal sense, the proven scientific sense. They will say that its existence has been proven in the laboratory rat through hormone injections but not with humans. They will take it very literal and they will look for proof and statistical evidence.  They are making their way to the oppressive nature of motherhood.

Other people will wave these arguments away. They will insists on the fact that they do know what they are feeling when their children are not with them.

But in point of fact, scientists today analyze maternal instinct in a biological, purely hormonal sense and scalp all feelings and emotions away. And maternal instinct have not scientifically been proven by scientists after the lactative period. It simply has not.

maternal instinct
Mother and Son Artist, Thomas Sully (American, Horncastle, Lincolnshire 1783–1872 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Date 1840, Medium Oil on canvas


Ethology and Parenting: Can Instinct be Learned?

Ethology is the study of non-human animal behavior under natural conditions with the goal of learning about more about how species develop adaptive traits in response to changing social and environmental conditions. Charles Darwin’s work was instrumental in the development of the field of ethology. His theory of evolution enabled scientists to begin viewing mankind as a part of the natural world rather than a uniquely separate species. The knowledge obtained from studying animals and their behavior has contributed a great deal to understanding human behavior. Separating the myths surrounding the concept of mother’s natural instinct from fact has been an important aspect of this research.

The concept of imprinting was first studied by Nobel prize-winning ethologists Konrad Lorenz, Nikolaas Tinburgen, and Karl Von Frisch. By studying the behavior of birds, it was concluded that baby birds emerged with the ability to bond with their mothers within a matter of hours. In the 1960’s researchers began to apply ethology to research on child development. One of the most interesting questions ethologists have attempted to answer is whether a human mother’s natural instinct is a biological reality or a social construct.

Mother’s Natural Instinct and Biology

Research methods used in ethology were used to learn more about the human mother’s natural instinct and whether the same imprinting process took place in human infants. According to ethological theory, which focuses on genetics and biology, babies are biologically prepared to behave in ways that establishes a bond with their caregivers. Ethologists believe that these behaviors are evolutionary adaptations that improve the chances for survival. The ethological school of motherhood is one that subscribes to attachment theory.

Rather than imprinting like birds, human bonding has been termed “attachment”, a term used by John Bowlby to describe the process. He agreed with the ethological view that human babies are biologically programmed to form attachments that will ensure their survival. He stressed the importance of successful bonding with the mother above all others and theorized that the quality of the mother-child bond would serve as the model for all future relationships.

While Bowlby’s research and theories proved invaluable, later research revealed that biology may play a larger role in what is considered mother’s natural instinct than he realized when forming his attachment theory. Developmental psychobiologist Myron Hofer conducted experiments that challenged Bowlby’s theory of the internal working model of attachment. When rat pups were separated from their mother, they exhibited both physiological and behavioral changes. Changes were found in heart rate and body temperature, as well as exploratory behaviors. Hofer concluded that mother-infant interactions can actually control vital regulatory functions apart from cognitive factors.

Rat pups that received high levels of maternal licking and grooming had milder responses to threat and increased exploratory behavior – effects that lasted into adulthood, and more importantly, resulted in genetic changes that were passed on to the next generation. Individual differences in maternal behavior contributed to differences in the gene expression of their offspring. These findings proved important in changing the scientific view of mother’s natural instinct.

Mother’s Natural Instinct Versus Maternal Behavior

What has historically been viewed as the human mother’s natural instinct is actually a complex set of interactions between a number of biological and environmental elements. Bowlby’s original concept of attachment security has been expanded upon to show that attachment security is influenced by both biology and maternal temperament. Studies in which children have developed emotional attachments to various objects such as a blanket or a cuddly toy with which they comfort themselves when a parent is not available have provided further evidence of the human instinct to form attachments to that which represents safety as a means of survival.

The concept of mother’s natural instinct has resulted in a belief that all women are biologically equipped to provide adequate nurturing to their offspring. Effective parenting, rather than being the result of natural instinct, is in fact a complex set of learned behaviors. Future parenting behaviors are influenced by the type of parenting an individual has received in the past. Research that identifies the types nurturing behaviors that are most beneficial to children provides women with the opportunity to learn and practice those behaviors. Positive genetic changes result from those behaviors and can then be passed to the next generation. Providing information with the potential to improve the quality of life for future generations is perhaps the most important contribution science has made to mankind.

mothers natural instinct