Evolutionary and Biochemical Explanations for a Unique Female Stress Response: Tend-and-Befriend
Lauren A. McCarthy
Rochester Institute of Technology
Taylor et al. (2000) first proposed the idea of a unique female stress response which they termed “tend-and-befriend.” The tend-and-befriend response is characterized as an oxytocin mediated stress response cascade. There are numerous biochemical and evolutionary explanations for this unique female stress response that would have increased the survival of females and their offspring under conditions of stress and hence increased the chances of subsequent reproduction. Estrogen has been found to increase the effects of oxytocin already in excess in females as compared with males. Testosterone and vasopressin, the counterparts of estrogen and oxytocin, present during the male stress response, “fight-or-flight,” have been found to exhibit the opposite effects of oxytocin.
Human Stress Responses
The human stress response coined, “fight or flight” by Walter Cannon in 1932 is a hormonal response characterized by the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine. This hormonal cascade is caused by the activation of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system in response to a potential threat or danger. These threats can range from a predator attack to natural disasters threatening the survival of the individual and species such as earthquakes, fire, or even flooding.
Up until 1995, research investigating the fight-or-flight response had been done primarily with males, females only constituting 17% of the participants. Researchers have rationalized this inequality because of an inconsistency in the results obtained from female subjects due to fluctuations in hormone levels during menstruation cycles. Taylor et al. (2000) suggest that the primarily male based research may have caused many to overlook a unique female stress response which they term “tend-and-befriend.”
Taylor et al. (2000) argue that due to differences in parental investment, females may have evolved their own stress response in order to protect themselves while they were pregnant, nursing, or caring for offspring. The male fight-or-flight response would not have been advantageous to the survival of females and their offspring because often the female would either be unable to fight or flee during pregnancy, or unable to protect their young if they were nursing or taking care of their young. Evolutionarily the tend-and-befriend stress response in females would have been selected for and the fight-or-flight response would have been selected against in females.
Unlike the fight-or-flight response which allows one to fight against a threat if overcoming the threat is likely or flee if overcoming the threat is unlikely, the tend-and-befriend response is characterized by tending to young in times of stress and befriending those around in times of stress to increase the likelihood of survival. Since a group is more likely than an individual to overcome a threat, this response is a protective mechanism for both the female and her offspring. Basically, befriending other females is inherently necessary for the protection of offspring since pregnancy and nursing make a female even more vulnerable to an outside threat. Forming a network not only allows the female to have added protection and help with the raising of offspring, but also serves to secure resources such as housing and food. Although the threats mentioned are assumed to be external to the female home environment, this female network also serves to protect the females from the males even within the home environment. Studies even show that females who emigrate and are unable to form a female network, characteristic of female befriending, are more likely to become victims of abuse than women who are able to form these ties (Taylor et al., 2000).
Gender Differences and Aggression
Gender differences in response to stressors begin to develop even before adolescence but are not seen in young children because of the absence of sex hormones. Bird and Harris (1990) reported that female adolescents felt more stress from their family role than did male adolescents. In addition, much like the tendency of women in the tend-and-befriend response, adolescent girls rely more heavily upon their support networks during times of stress. Conversely, adolescent boys more typically engaged in aggressive physical release much like the characteristic the fight-or-flight response. Another study of eight to twelve year old children conducted by Ryan (1989) found that the way children deal with stressors as well as the way they perceive their stressors is greatly affected by their gender.
Although the exact role of testosterone in the fight-or-flight hormonal cascade still remains unclear, it has been associated with aggression in both human and animal studies (Bergman & Brismar, 1994; Lumina, Thorner & McGinnis, 1994). Girdler et al.’s 1997 study showed that testosterone levels increased in males in response to stress showed a positive correlation to levels of hostility. In 1974, Ehlers, et al. conducted a study which showed that dominant and aggressive male prisoners had higher levels of testosterone than their non-dominant and nonviolent counterparts. In another study by Benton in 1992, captive human males which included incarcerated felons and psychiatric patients also showed a positive correlation between testosterone and aggression. Male rapists who used physical violence have also been found to have greater circulating levels of testosterone than those males convicted of nonviolent crimes (Rada et al., 1976).
The tend-and-befriend response does not imply that female-female aggression does not exist, but rather that it occurs through a different pathway than the male testosterone driven aggression mediated by the fight-or-flight response. Female rats have shown aggression only in circumstances that required defense such as the presence of an intruder (Adams, 1992). This is also supported by research showing that females hesitate more than males in delivering an electric shock to an unknown subject when instructed to do so (Miller et al., 1974).
In both sexes, higher levels of testosterone were found to be indicative of violent behavior and aggression. Women with violent histories and female prisoners convicted of violent crimes were found to have higher testosterone levels in blood plasma and saliva respectively (Ehlers, et al., 1980). Although testosterone has been linked with physical aggression, psychological violence, which some researchers characterize females as employing more often than physical aggression, is more difficult to observe and quantify in a laboratory setting and hence has not been researched extensively (Bjorkqvist & Niemela, 1992).
Taylor et al. (2000) suggest the existence of an endogenous stress regulatory system for females. Researchers have established that in response to a stressor, both males and females have an activation of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system which causes the release of oxytocin, vasopressin, and corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) from the hypothalamus. Oxytocin however has been found to counteract the effects of the stress response (McCarthy, 1995).
Kendrick, et al. (1997) performed an intracerebroventricular (ICV) infusion of oxytocin on female, virgin, hormone primed rats. The oxytocin inducted a short maternal response after thirty minutes and these results were later reproduced with mice. Sheep however showed a full maternal response in less than thirty seconds following an ICV of oxytocin. Researchers speculate that since the sheep gives birth to a limited number of offspring, the sheep it must therefore invest more time in the upbringing of these limited offspring. Because of increased parental investment, sheep would have a more sensitive response to oxytocin. Animals with numerous offspring such as rats and mice however would have a less sensitive response to oxytocin since they have numerous offspring and they do not invest as much into the protection and upbringing of these offspring.
The influence of oxytocin is generally associated with labor and lactation in females. However, oxytocin is present in both males and females but in greater quantities in females. Interestingly, even in females who have never become pregnant, oxytocin levels were found to rise in response to relaxation massage and decrease in response to sad emotions. Overall, oxytocin works to decrease blood pressure as well as decrease cortisol, a hormone responsible for the fight-or-flight response (Uvnas-Moberg, 1997, 1998). In a study conducted by Klein et al. (1998), female laboratory rats showed less typical fear responses to stress than their male counterparts indicating a possible interference of oxytocin in the normal stress response cascade.
It is hypothesized that females release oxytocin in response to stress and this release is actually a biochemical catalyst to the tend-and-befriend stress response. The studies conducted by McCarthy (1995) of oxytocin suggest that this alternative biochemical cascade also serves to increase infant-mother attachment and consequently in response to stress rarely results in the abandonment of the infant (Taylor et al., 2000). Jezova et al. (1995) found that the administration of hypertonic saline which was meant to mimic the effects of stressors such as water deprivation and a thirty minute mobilization to mimic the effects of a capture situation both caused increases in oxytocin levels in females.
Although released from the hypothalamus during the activation of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system, when administered exogenously, as in Jezova et al. (1995), oxytocin has been found to produce quite the opposite effects of the fight-or-flight response. Oxytocin has caused relaxation and sedation as well as reduced fearfulness and reduced sensitivity to pain (Uvnas-Moberg, 1997). Taylor et al. (2000) propose that the reason this occurs is because androgens, such as testosterone, inhibit the release of oxytocin as shown in Jezova et al. (1996). In addition to the increased quantity of oxytocin released in females as compared with males, McCarthy (1995) has found that estrogen regulates the effects of oxytocin. Therefore, oxytocin may be vital in the inhibition of the fight-or-flight response in females.
At the core of the tend-and-befriend response is the relationship between estrogen and oxytocin. Unlike estrogen, the female sex hormone, androgens such as testosterone, the male sex hormone, actually inhibits the release of oxytocin and promotes the release of vasopressin, the male counterpart to oxytocin which may be responsible for their fight-or-flight response. The inhibition of oxytocin could partly explain the more aggressive physical behavior seen in males compared with the calming tend-and-befriend response observed in females.
Eisler and Levine (2002) argue that female care giving behaviors may have been favored evolutionarily because of the effects of their oxytocin release. However, these care giving behaviors are not imprinted. Eisler and Levine argue that the care giving behavior is not imprinted since females exist who do not exhibit care giving behaviors and often even harm or kill their offspring.
Oxytocin may also play a role in the tending response characteristic of females. Nursing mothers have higher oxytocin levels as compared with non-lactating mothers which may serve to calm infants (Field & Goldson, 1984). Normal health and immune functioning has also been correlated with touch and massage in infants. This tending, or nurturing behavior serves to benefit both the mother and the offspring, ensuring survival and health (Field, 1995).
When an oxytocin antagonist, naltrexone was administered to females it was found to have the opposite effects of oxytocin. The women exposed to this antagonist isolated themselves and their social interactions were less amicable. Those women who were only administered a placebo were found to initiate more female interaction than those who were administered the antagonist. This research supports the theory that oxytocin is related to the befriending patterns of females and the formation of close relationships with other females during times of stress (Taylor et al., 2000).
In a study conducted by Repetti (1989), fathers and mothers were given questionnaires and asked to answer questions regarding their stressfulness of their work day and their after work home behavior. Repetti found that father’s who encountered a stressful day at work were more likely to withdraw from their families upon returning home. Females however were found to engage in more nurturing and caretaking behavior after stressful days at work as compared with non-stressful days. This research further supports the oxytocin mediated stress response in females which characteristically increases caretaking and tending behavior of offspring.
Conversely, the male fight-or-flight response is characterized by the release of vasopressin. The effects of vasopressin are enhanced by the presence of testosterone and influence the defense behavior of male animals in clinical studies. Although vasopressin is structurally similar to oxytocin, vasopressin has been found to increase aggression in males and hence could be argued as a potential biochemical pathway for the fight-or-flight response in males (Taylor et al., 2002).
Evolutionary Social Advantages of Befriending
Befriending can have numerous advantages for a female � first and foremost is the protection it provides for the female and her offspring. Not only are groups more likely to overcome a threat than an individual, but a predator is less likely to attack a mother in a group because of the potential aid of the other group members decreases the chances of the predator winning a fight. This advantage is seen throughout evolution as members of a group were more likely to survive than those attempting to survive on their own. Hence, evolutionarily, group living and befriending of others of the same species has been selected for rather than against in natural selection (Taylor et al., 2000).
In their commentary on Taylor et al. (2000), Geary and Flinn (2002) argue that due to the prevalence of male philopatry throughout the evolution of humans, female kin based research is inconsequential. Male philopatry occurs when the males stay in their initial birth group while females migrate to different groups. Geary and Flinn (2002) argue that since the female relationships are not primarily kin based their relationship would be more indicative of reciprocal altruism rather than befriending. This argument is fundamentally flawed however because the mechanistic behavior of befriending would actually benefit migrating females more than it would benefit non-migrating females who remain in kin based relationships with other females throughout their lives. For a female who joins a new group with unfamiliar members, it would be advantageous for this female to form allies with other females from this group. This befriending technique would allow the female to protect her offspring as well as herself if she were ever attacked by a male in the unfamiliar group. However, the befriending technique in a kin based relationship would be unneeded as the genetic relationship would benefit the kin to support the female in times of need to ensure the survival of her offspring and her genes, and hence part of their genes.
Geary and Flinn (2002) attempt to argue that male befriending has been ignored in the Taylor et al (2000) article since chimpanzees, humans, and dolphins exhibit male befriending patterns. Geary and Flinn (2002) however overlook the fact that this male befriending is purely for control in a hierarchy, fight against other males, and protecting access to their group of females (Taylor et al., 2000). Typically, males are more drawn to larger groups which would aid in defense and war whereas females have been more drawn to smaller groups that would provide both emotional and care giving support to other females during times of stress (Baumeister & Sommer, 1997). In fact, during the formation of male groups, increases in the levels of testosterone have been noted (Dabbs & Dabbs, 2000).
Befriending is a behavior that is related to care of offspring and protection of offspring to ensure survival. The male befriending patterns argued by Geary and Flinn (2002) however are purely the results of the fight-or-flight stress response. The male in this scenario is attempting to protect himself and his belongings and does not entail appropriate care of offspring during times of stress. This male befriending response would occur regardless of the presence of offspring and hence does not constitute the equivalent response to female befriending.
Conclusion: Tend-and-Befriend Versus Fight-or-Flight
The male fight-or-flight response is inherently different from the female tend-and-befriend response. The male stress response most likely evolved as a protective measure to ensure the survival of the male. If the male was likely to overcome the threat he would fight whereas if the threat was unlikely to be overcome the male would flee. Females with the same stress response as the male model would be unable to defend themselves while caring for offspring and be unable to flee promptly since they would have to move their offspring away efficiently. Taylor et al. (2000) propose the tend-and-befriend female stress response as an evolutionary solution to this problem that would have been selected for in natural selection. Females who retained the fight-or-flight response would have decreased chances of surviving and hence decreased likelihood of their offspring survival and reproduction. The formation of female networks that would ensure the care of offspring and aid in the defense if a threat were present would have been selected for in natural selection since it would increase the likelihood of survival. Animal experimental evidence as well as human models supports Taylor et al.’s (2000) hypotheses as a feasible evolutionary and biochemical mechanism to ensure female and offspring survival.
Fluctuations of Male Hormones in Response to Partner Pregnancy and Childbirth: Proof of Human Paternal Care
Amanda K. Bruskin
Rochester Institute of Technology
When Taylor et al. (2000) proposed the idea of a unique female stress response, the “tend-and-befriend” response, they appeared to strengthen the evolutionary and biochemical explanation for both the differences between men and women and the supposed biological excuse for a man’s lack of parenting skills. After reading Lauren A. McCarthy’s paper, �Evolutionary and Biochemical Explanations for a Unique Female Stress Response: Tend-and-Befriend,� I as a woman was deeply concerned. Is this severe dichotomy between the sexes evidence that women are built for motherhood, while men are still cavemen concerned only with hunting and dominating the rest of the tribe? Has our species not evolved to encompass the need for and benefits of paternal behavior?
Although this might be the conclusion drawn after reading McCarthy’s paper, it is crucial to explore this topic further. Perhaps it is my desperate hope as a woman that my mate would care for my children in a disaster and feel that same surge of protectiveness that in McCarthy’s paper has been attributed only to women. But as researchers explore parental behavior in mammals and in our own species, it becomes clear that men are just as invested in their offspring’s well-being and safety as are women. Although the sexes differ in only one chromosome, men and women still exhibit drastically different neuroendocrine systems. Thus it is crucial to remember that even if men do not exhibit the same hormonal response to stress as do women, other mechanisms may be at work that bring the same result.
Current research into the behavioral endocrinology of male paternal behavior is testing the hypothesis that paternal and maternal behavior are homologous at the neural and endocrine levels (Wynne-Edwards & Reburn, 2000). If homologous, then the same hormones would act as the same neural sites to facilitate the expression of the same repertoire of parental behaviors in males and females. Recent studies have shown that hormone concentrations in men becoming fathers are different from control samples matched for age, health, season, and time of day (Berg & Wynne-Edwards, 2001). Expectant fathers displayed drastically increased levels of estradiol, a hormone crucial for the priming of maternal behavior (Rosenblatt, Olufowobi, & Siegel, 1998).
There is also considerable evidence that testosterone decreases in new fathers of species with extensive parental care, based on experiments with numerous species, including Mongolian gerbils, California mice, and Djungarian hamsters (Brown, Murdoch, Murphy, & Moger, 1995; Gubernick & Nelson, 1989; Reburn & Wynne-Edwards, 1999), as well as in cotton-top tamarins, common marmosets, and men (Berg & Wynne-Edwards, 2001; Storey, Walsh, Quinton, & Wynne-Edwards, 2000; Ziegler, Wegner, & Snowdon, 1996). This decrease in testosterone levels reduces possible aggression toward infants, reduces distraction by courtship and mating, and facilitates paternal care and bonding to the infant (Clark & Galef, 2000).
A decrease in testosterone levels in expectant and new fathers increases levels of oxytocin, a hormone linked to parental behavior. Although oxytocin is found in both men and women, it is typically found in larger amounts in females. Oxytocin is the main basis for Taylor et al.’s (2000) tend-and-befriend model, and it is crucial to understand that although this hormone exists at different levels in men and women, this hormone also affects male behavior. In an experiment on California mice, a species known for its exclusive monogamy, males were shown to exhibit increased levels of oxytocin just one day post-copulation and to maintain these increased levels for at least 2 months after birth (Gubernick et al., 1995).
Although it is always exciting when a new theory is devised in attempts to explain behavior, it is crucial to not focus solely on this theory and ignore the vast number of other experiments conducted on this topic. Although Taylor et al. (2000) supposedly explained why women are superior caregivers, they failed to explain the important hormonal changes men experience when their mate is pregnant and giving birth. Men too experience fluctuations in their hormonal balances, and although they typically maintain higher levels of testosterone and cortisol and lower levels of oxytocin, their mate’s pregnancy changes these levels. These fluctuations cause men to become more protective, nurturing parents, just as they affect women. We must not look back on our evolutionary history and conclude that men are incapable of parenting; male hormonal and endocrine systems show that they too are programmed for parenthood.
Tend-and-Befriend as a Stress Response for All Females, or Just Some?
Patricia J. Bergemann
Rochester Institute of Technology
Recently, a new stress response was proposed, called “tend-and-befriend.” This response is supposed to be the female version of the classic “fight-or-flight” response in dealing with stress. Instead of fighting or running away from an enemy or stressful situation, women are said to generally tend to each other, making friends so as to face that stressor in a group.
Although this may often be the case, I believe that this tend-and-befriend response depends primarily on what the specific stressor is and the type of person making the response. For example, some stressors can easily be dealt with by oneself, without first making friends and then facing the stressful event as a group. I know that I am much more likely to handle problems myself. I have very few female friends, and I do not usually involve them in my problem-solving. According to the tend-and-befriend model, this may be because I do not have extreme stressors or because I have a higher level of testosterone. Either way, I do not fit this model well.
Because fight-or-flight and tend-and-befriend are caused by a hormonal cascade (testosterone and vasopressin in males, and estrogen and oxytocin in females), it makes sense that there is a large difference between genders. There is, however, also a range of hormone levels among members of the same sex. Given that one woman may have lower levels of estrogen and oxytocin than another woman, it seems that anything related to hormones should be related to gender on a continuum rather than one clear-cut level for all members of that gender.
I am sure that there are many women who are perfect examples of people who respond to stress by tending and befriending. But I also think that many women use that particular response only to some degree based on their own hormone levels, disposition, and the stressor that is present. When I am faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, I often go to my friends for help. But I am usually much more likely to confront that problem by myself, putting myself farther away from the model tend-and-befriend woman on the continuum. Does this make me less female or just less typical?
I think that before this tend-and-befriend model can be deemed completely accurate, it must first be researched further. I understand that a lot of corroborating evidence has been found, but I am skeptical at the same time. Were all of the women sampled facing the same sort of problem? Were they “typical” girls, or were there some who were more like me, without other girlfriends, who are more inclined to solve problems solo? If it turns out that the women sampled for the tend-and-befriend studies were varied in personality, response style, and background, then I will be more willing to accept this theory as valid. Until then, I remain skeptical. I think that this topic has too many individual variables, both in disposition and in biology.
Along the same lines, I do not think that all men instinctively employ the fight-or-flight response. I know several men who would much rather hash out a problem with their friends, gathering opinions and insights. I know a few who would even prefer to face the stressor in a group. This violates the typical fight-or-flight response usually seen in men. Like the women who do not always tend and befriend, these men may have lower levels of the sex hormone that causes the typical response (testosterone and vasopressin in this case), or maybe they are simply less likely to fight or flee when dealing with stress based on their personality and disposition.
I realize that the tend-and-befriend stress response has been corroborated by research findings, but I do not think that the research has been exhausted. Until this theory can explain why I do not use the typical female stress response, I will keep looking for a different theory that will.
Do All Women Fare Better Because of the Tend-and-Befriend Stress Response?
Caitlin M. Jones
Rochester Institute of Technology
According to the paper written by McCarthy, the fairly recent discovery of the tend-and-befriend stress response has given insight into how women may be better adapted to handling stress. Unlike males, who only experience the fight-or-flight response, women seem to have both stress responses and it is the tend-and-befriend response that helps women more. In stressful situations, women tend to their offspring to protect them and also find relief in the presence of other women. The main source of this stress response is found in the hormone oxytocin, which is generally associated with labor and lactation. As women engage in the tend-and-befriend behavior, their levels of oxytocin increase, therefore reducing the amount of stress experienced.
This information seems quite accurate according to the author, but one question that must be asked is whether the personality of the female plays any role in how they respond to stress. It is understood that certain personality traits lend themselves well to getting along with others and being able to open up to people, such as extraversion and openness. Women, who share these personality traits and experience an increase in oxytocin through pregnancy, seem more likely to engage in, at least, the befriending response. They would be more willing to share experiences and bond with other women who are in similar circumstances. On the other hand, would women who go through pregnancy and breast feeding, but who are more introverted and shy, seek out other women in times of stress? Since these women are normally not open to forming friendships or confiding in others, then the tend-and-befriend response might not influence them. More succinctly, the question being asked is, are the advantages of the tend-and-befriend stress response contingent on the personality of women? This is a question and an issue that was not addressed by McCarthy, but is an important question to ask.
Another issue that should be raised when discussing the tend-and-befriend response is regarding the attachment style that existed between mothers and daughters. Different attachment styles exist that parents conform to when raising their children, such as the secure, avoidant, and ambivalent types. Based on the attachment formed, it can have an influence on how that person develops and possibly how they would eventually raise their own children. Individuals who had a secure attachment are more prepared to handle the pressures of raising children and are more inclined to develop a secure attachment with their own children. Parents who experienced either the avoidant or ambivalent attachment styles when they were young would be more at risk of showing those same behaviors towards their children. Whether a woman has a dependent husband or partner greatly determines how much a negative attachment style will influence their behavior. Nevertheless, the point of this information is that it might not necessarily depend on the tend-and-befriend stress response that makes a woman better able to handle stress. If a woman has a strong connection with her children, then there is no doubt that she would want to do everything in her power to protect them from danger. However, women who do not express great concern for their children or are not as responsive to their needs (characteristic of the avoidant and ambivalent styles), will have less capabilities or desire to care and protect their children in times of stress and emergency. Consequently, whether a mother would want to protect her children does not rely specifically on an increase in hormones, but their overall personality disposition.
It seems that there are some issues that were not addressed by McCarthy in her analysis of the tend-and-befriend stress response. Women are different in so many ways that assigning one explanation for behavior is not the most logical approach. McCarthy should be well aware of this, and hopefully it is not the point of her paper to do just that. However, this paper does raise other interesting questions regarding this stress response, such as do all women fair better because of the tend-and-befriend stress response?
Tend-and-Befriend: Not a Theory of Parenting
Lauren A. McCarthy
Rochester Institute of Technology
In her commentary, Bruskin voiced concern that the tend-and-befriend response is a “supposed biological excuse for a man’s lack of parenting skills.” This is simply not the case, nor should it have been inferred from my paper. As Taylor et al. (2002) explained upon receiving the same criticism from peers Geary and Flinn (2002), “The tend-and-befriend model is not about parenting; however, it is a model of biobehavioral responses to stress.” Bruskin also stated, �Perhaps it is my desperate hope as a woman that my mate would care for my children in a disaster and feel that same surge of protectiveness that [�] has been attributed only to women.” Currently there is no evidence to suggest that the male hormones released in response to stress suppress any of the fight-or-flight responses and instead create the “surge of protectiveness” that Bruskin hoped to see. This does not mean that there is not such a mechanism in males but rather that the exploration of one was not the topic of this paper, and research has concluded that men do not follow the same pathway as women, which creates the characteristic tending behavior under stress. Finally, Bruskin stated that the aim of the research by Taylor et al. (2000) was to explain “why women are superior caregivers.” Bruskin obviously misunderstood the purpose of the research; I think that, as a woman, it would be exciting to know that funding and research is finally going to study biobehavioral mechanisms unique to the female body.
In their peer commentaries, Bergemann and Jones made a good point that a female’s response to stress could also be regulated by the type of stress she encounters as well as her personality. I agree that research should be conducted in this area; however, most research regarding the female stress response has primarily been on animals. This is clearly a shortcoming of the research but is also inherent to the topic at hand–I assume very few females are willing to line up for an experiment to see how they react to extreme stress. Bergemann suggested that she is perhaps an anomaly to the tend-and-befriend response. Before experiencing the added stress of protecting offspring, I caution Bergemann from drawing such conclusions. Jones suggested that attachment styles between mother and offspring may play a role in the expression of the tend-and-befriend response–much like the personality research mentioned earlier, this seems like a promising area of research but one that has not yet been explored.
The research conducted by Taylor et al. (2000) was neither to make biological excuses for a male’s lack of involvement in parenting nor to conclude that males do not care equally for their offspring. The tend-and-befriend response is not about parenting styles but about responses to stress. The purpose of this paper was to provide the reader with an understanding of this newly discovered unique female biochemical pathway, which is expressed under conditions of stress. As suggested by two of my peers, there are gaps in research that need to be filled before the tend-and-befriend theory can be widely accepted. The research explored thus far, however, is exciting and should be embraced, because if nothing else the research uncovered a clear inadequacy in the application of the fight-or-flight response to females.
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