Brain and Mind

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 9–52

Nurture, Nature, and Caring: We Are Not Prisoners of Our Genes

  • Riane Eisler
  • Daniel S. Levine

DOI: 10.1023/A:1016553723748

Cite this article as:
Eisler, R. & Levine, D.S. Brain and Mind (2002) 3: 9. doi:10.1023/A:1016553723748


This article develops a theory for how caringbehavior fits into the makeup of humans andother mammals. Biochemical evidence for threemajor patterns of response to stressful orotherwise complex situations is reviewed. There is the classic fight-or-flight response;the dissociative response, involving emotionalwithdrawal and disengagement; and the bondingresponse, a variant of which Taylor et al.(2000) called tend-and-befriend. All three ofthese responses can be explained as adaptationsthat have been selected for in evolution andare shared between humans and other mammals. Yet each of us contains varying tendenciestoward all of these responses. How doesdevelopment interact with genes to influencethese tendencies? How do individuals,societies, and institutions make choicesbetween these types of responses?We review the evidence, based on behavioral,lesion, single-cell, and brain imaging studies,for cortical-subcortical interactions involvedin all three of these response types, andpropose partial neural network models for someof these interactions. We propose that theorbitomedial prefrontal cortex mediates thischoice process. This area of prefrontal cortexperforms this mediation through its connectionswith areas of sensory and association cortexthat represent social contexts or stimuli, andwith areas of the hypothalamus, limbic system,and autonomic nervous system that representemotional states or classes of response patterns.The article concludes with implications of ourtheory for social interactions andinstitutions. We argue that despite the wideprevalence of fight-or-flight responses, thebonding, caring responses remain available. Weshow with historical and contemporary exampleshow social settings – whether in education,work places, families, politics, and informalsocial customs – can be designed to supportand enhance the natural caring responses of thebrain.

bonding brain caring dissociation evolution fight-or-flight orbitomedial prefrontal cortex social influences tend-and-befriend 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Riane Eisler
    • 1
  • Daniel S. Levine
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Partnership Studies (California Office)Pacific GroveUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA

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