For a moment, please think back to everything you've ever learned in a biology course. The details may elude you, but if you're anything like me, there's one abstract idea that sticks out above the others. The theory of evolution is as close to unanimous acceptance as the worldwide community of biologists, ecologists, and psychologists will ever allow. With it comes the underlying notion that species change over time in such a way as to carry forth the traits that best enhance survival and reproduction.
This classic idea behind the origins of life as we know it came to mind as I read about attachment styles in Chapter 10. It stands to reason that rhesus monkeys, the subjects of Harry Harlow's experiments on reinforcement, might be biologically inclined to jump immediately to the surrogate mother with an available food source when a frightening stimulus comes along. Theoretically, the monkeys who could quickly reach and claim food sources would be in a better position to pass on their genes. However, as Harlow identified, the warmth and soft texture of the cloth-wrapped surrogate mother proved to be a much more appealing companion in frightening moments, even with a food-supplied mother nearby.
Harlow's discovery and coining of "contact comfort" was used as a contradiction to the single-minded focus on reinforcement that behaviorism trumpeted. However, I see his discovery as more of an affront to evolution itself. There's no evolutionary reason to believe that a rhesus monkey would favor the more comfortable surrogate mother over the wire mother with food. Therefore, I believe that "contact comfort" demonstrates the power of emotions in directing our behavior. As the rhesus monkeys show us, this phenomenon is even powerful enough to override our evolutionary coding. This makes me wonder how often the same rule applies to myself and other human beings. How often do we allow our emotions to rule over what our genes are pushing us to do? Does genetic influence even matter to mankind anymore? The most important question is whether we are influencing our own evolutionary trajectory, wherein the emotional decisions we make affect reproductive success and which genes are carried forth. How do the warm feelings and positive emotions that characterize "contact comfort" increase our survival or reproductive success?
(full disclaimer: I am a Biochemistry major with experience in evolutionary biology courses.)