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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Contemplating the evolution of attachment and cognition in a collaborative learning environment

  • Author(s): Marcello, Angelica
  • et al.

This study investigates the evolution of attachment and cognition by considering them to be products of the ontogenetic and evolutionary pressures acting on the developing individual. It is argued that the unique cognitive capabilities of humans evolved through the attachment system because of the strong selection for plasticity that has shaped our evolutionary history. The possibility that the attachment system represents the substrate for the development of our unique cognitive capabilities is investigated by looking at the relative performance of secure versus insecure preschoolers in solving cognitively engaging tasks within a theoretically- informed collaborative learning environment. Security of attachment to the mother and cognitive performance were evaluated for a sample of 38 children (mean age, 49 months). Results indicated that attachment security was associated with overall performance (accuracy), critical thinking skills, and short-term memory. Moreover, mother- child attachment security was related to maternal sensitivity and children's empathy. Finally, a negative association between security and variability in cognitive performance was detected. Security-related differences in cognitive performance, sensitivity, and empathy are interpreted in light of ultimate and proximate perspectives. It is argued that while attachment research traditionally favors ultimate-level explanations, it can no longer disregard the important role that proximate factors and biology play on the developing individual. Attachment is viewed as a continuum of adaptive patterns that are all maintained by evolution because of selection for plasticity. The possibility that attachment is continuously (versus categorically) distributed is investigated by looking at the variability in cognitive performance between secure and insecure children. Critiques are advanced to the use of the Strange Situation Procedure as attachment assessment tool both on its typological classification of attachment types, as well as on its methodology. Lastly, this work explores ontogenetic and phylogenetic arguments about the rise of theory of mind in our species. Opposing views on the ontogenetic appearance of theory of mind like capabilities and on the phylogenetic implications of their emergence are combined as a way to better comprehend the reasons behind the evolution of human's unique cognition

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