AHP is pleased to present an interview with historian of science Marga Vicedo on her recent book The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America. The full interview follows below. Many thanks to Marga for agreeing to be interviewed!
AHP: As a historian and philosopher of biology how did you first become interested in the various ways we’ve conceptualized human instincts and the nature of love?
I have always been interested in understanding our views on human nature because those views inform our ideas about how to lead a moral life. How should I act? What should I do in order to be a good person and have a life worth living? Those seem to me the most fundamental questions we all confront in our lives. The more we understand who we are, the better we will be able to answer those questions. Thus, very early in my philosophical and historical studies I wanted to explore what biology and psychology have to say about human nature.
A central debate in those fields focuses on how much and in what ways our biological constitution influences our mental and emotional makeup. Scientists have used different concepts over time: instincts, innate drives, evolutionary stable strategies, human nature, genetic makeup, … but the question is basically the same: how much does biology shape the way we think, feel, and act? The answer to that question is central for explaining human behavior in psychology and biology. In addition, it also informs our ideas about biological or environmental determinism, standards of normality, conceptions of ethics, and views about individual and social responsibility. Trying to understand all those fundamental issues and their interrelations is what led me to focus on instincts.
One striking feature of the discourse on instincts is the profound “gendering” of some behaviors and emotions. Although the search for instincts aims to locate those characteristics that are part of all human beings, many scientists claimed that human nature came in two forms: male and female. Aggession became the defining instinct for males. And the maternal instinct became the defining characteristic of women’s nature. But how did love become “gendered”? How can we differentiate maternal and parental love? And how did we come to think that maternal love is fundamental to the emotional development of a child?
In this book, I explore ideas about mother love in the United States from World War II until the 1970s. My central claim is that during that period prominent researchers from various fields of study established the view that emotions are an integral part of the self and that mother love determines an individual’s emotional development. One theory in particular played a key role in the establishment and permanence of those views: John Bowlby’s ethological theory of attachment behavior. This was not the only theory that put forth maternal care and love as the cradle of the emotional self, but it has become the most enduring and successful one. My book tries to explain why.
AHP: What were some of the factors that supported the post-WWII move toward envisioning maternal love as a biological instinct? Continue reading
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A new volume from the University of Chicago Press may be of interest to AHP readers. How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality describes efforts to reshape rationality within the human sciences during the Cold War. A recent review of the book by Ole Holsti, of Duke University, can be found on H-Net. As described on the publisher’s site,
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In the United States at the height of the Cold War, roughly between the end of World War II and the early 1980s, a new project of redefining rationality commanded the attention of sharp minds, powerful politicians, wealthy foundations, and top military brass. Its home was the human sciences—psychology, sociology, political science, and economics, among others—and its participants enlisted in an intellectual campaign to figure out what rationality should mean and how it could be deployed.
How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind brings to life the people—Herbert Simon, Oskar Morgenstern, Herman Kahn, Anatol Rapoport, Thomas Schelling, and many others—and places, including the RAND Corporation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the Cowles Commission for Research and Economics, and the Council on Foreign Relations, that played a key role in putting forth a “Cold War rationality.” Decision makers harnessed this picture of rationality—optimizing, formal, algorithmic, and mechanical—in their quest to understand phenomena as diverse as economic transactions, biological evolution, political elections, international relations, and military strategy. The authors chronicle and illuminate what it meant to be rational in the age of nuclear brinkmanship.
Historian Jamie Cohen-Cole‘s new book, The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature, is now available. The volume explores how the human sciences crafted a particular vision of autonomous, rational, and creative selfhood in the post-war years. Although first used to promote centrist political policies, the open-minded self – and its attendant scientific technologies – later came to divide individuals into increasingly polarized political factions. As Cohen-Cole writes,
If psychology could explain everything, there was one aspect of the self that held special importance to the intellectual and policy worlds: open-mindedness. Open-mindedness was a kind of mind characterized by autonomy, creativity, and the use of reason. To the scientific experts, intellectuals, and policy makers who developed and utilized the concept of the open mind, this type of self served simultaneously as model and ideal of national and intellectual character. They projected upon the open mind their aspirations for the American character and liberal pluralist democracy, for scientific thinking and true intellectual inquiry. Indeed, for some of these individuals the open mind transcended the academic and political, as its traits were even conscripted to serve as criteria for human nature itself. Cold War intellectuals and policy makers saw in open-mindedness solutions to the most pressing problems faced by the nation. Those who defined American foreign policy believed that open-minded autonomy, a hallmark of American virtue, posed a threat to the communist system. Traditional or authoritarian societies could not be sustained in the presence of a citizen body that thought autonomously, but for a modern democracy like America, open-mindedness would have the opposite effect, offering social cohesion. The open mind meant a respect for individuality, tolerance of difference, appreciation of pluralism, and appreciation of freedom of thought. If citizens were sufficiently equipped with these virtues, thought policy makers and social critics, the nation would flourish.
An extended excerpt from The Open Mind can be read online here. The University of Chicago Press describes the volume as follows,
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The Open Mind chronicles the development and promulgation of a scientific vision of the rational, creative, and autonomous self, demonstrating how this self became a defining feature of Cold War culture. Jamie Cohen-Cole illustrates how from 1945 to 1965 policy makers and social critics used the idea of an open-minded human nature to advance centrist politics. They reshaped intellectual culture and instigated nationwide educational reform that promoted more open, and indeed more human, minds. The new field of cognitive science was central to this project, as it used popular support for open-mindedness to overthrow the then-dominant behaviorist view that the mind either could not be studied scientifically or did not exist. Cognitive science also underwrote the political implications of the open mind by treating it as the essential feature of human nature. While the open mind unified America in the first two decades after World War II, between 1965 and 1975 battles over the open mind fractured American culture as the ties between political centrism and the scientific account of human nature began to unravel. During the late 1960s, feminists and the New Left repurposed Cold War era psychological tools to redefine open-mindedness as a characteristic of left-wing politics. As a result, once-liberal intellectuals became neoconservative, and in the early 1970s, struggles against open-mindedness gave energy and purpose to the right wing.
The podcast series, New Books in Science, Technology, and Society (part of the New Books Network), has just released a new episode featuring an interview with Marga Vicedo on her recent book, The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America (previously on AHP here). In the interview Vicedo, a professor at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto, discusses her work with host Carla Nappi. As described on the podcast website,
Between WWII and the 1970s, prominent researchers from various fields established and defended a view that emotions are integral to the self, and that a mother’s love determines an individual’s emotional development. In Marga Vicedo, The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America (University of Chicago Press, 2013), Marga Vicedo explores the emergence of the science of children’s emotional needs in the twentieth century. Masterfully bringing together approaches from the history and philosophy of the biological sciences, Vicedo’s book focuses on British psychoanalyst and psychiatrist John Bowlby (1907-1990), whose ethological work became one of the most influential and controversial psychological theories of the 20th century. Vicedo uses the story of Bowlby’s science to explore a broader modern history of work on animal and human behavior that includes Konrad Lorenz, Anna Freud, Benjamin Spock, and Niko Tinbergen, among others. Along the way, The Nature & Nurture of Love chronicles the emergence of a kind of anthropomorphic material culture of the human sciences, inhabiting its story with a fascinating cast of robots, dolls, geese, monkeys, and stuffed animals, as well as humans. It is a fascinating and gripping trans-disciplinary story and an absolute pleasure to read.
Listen to the full interview here.
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The history of Cold War era American social science has been ably documented in a new edited collection, Cold War Social Science: Knowledge Production, Library Democracy, and Human Nature. Edited by historians Mark Solovey and Hamilton Cravens, the volume includes contributions on linguistics, social relations, anthropology, psychology, as well as the social sciences more broadly, from a number of accomplished scholars. The volume, comprised of three sections, on knowledge production, liberal democracy, and human nature, respectively, is described as follows.
From World War II to the early 1970s, American social science research expanded in dramatic and unprecedented fashion. This volume offers fascinating perspectives on the rise of U.S. practitioners as global leaders in the field, exploring how, why, and with what consequences this rapid and yet contested expansion depended on the entanglement of the social sciences with Cold War politics. Utilizing the controversial but useful concept of ‘Cold War social science,’ the histories gathered here reveal how scholars from established disciplines and new interdisciplinary fields of study made important contributions to long-standing debates about knowledge production, liberal democracy, and human nature.
Table of Contents
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Foreword: Positioning Social Science in Cold War America – Theodore M. Porter
Cold War Social Science: Spectre, Reality, or Useful Concept? – Mark Solovey
PART I: Knowledge Production
The Rise and Fall of Wartime Social Science: Harvard’s Refugee Interview Project, 1950-54 – David C. Engerman
Futures Studies: A New Social Science Rooted in Cold War Strategic Thinking – Kaya Tolon
‘It was All Connected’: Computers and Linguistics in Early Cold War America – Janet Martin-Nielsen
Epistemic Design: Theory and Data in Harvard’s Department of Social Relations – Joel Isaac
PART II: Liberal Democracy
Producing Reason – Hunter Heyck
Column Right, March! Nationalism, Scientific Positivism, and the Conservative Turn of the American Social Sciences in the Cold War Era – Hamilton Cravens
From Expert Democracy to Beltway Banditry: How the Anti-War Movement Expanded the Military-Academic-Industrial Complex – Joy Rohde
Neo-Evolutionist Anthropology, the Cold War, and the Beginnings of the World Turn in U.S. Scholarship – Howard Brick
PART III: Human Nature
Maintaining Humans – Edward Jones-Imhotep
Psychology, Psychologists, and the Creativity Movement: The Lives of Method Inside and Outside the Cold War – Michael Bycroft
An Anthropologist on TV: Ashley Montagu and the Biological Basis of Human Nature, 1945-1960 – Nadine Weidman
Cold War Emotions: The War over Human Nature – Marga Vicedo
A new volume exploring the history of human instincts has just been published by the University of Chicago Press. In The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America historian of biology Marga Vicedo explores how the idea of instinctual mother love took hold. As described on the publisher’s website,
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The notion that maternal care and love will determine a child’s emotional well-being and future personality has become ubiquitous. In countless stories and movies we find that the problems of the protagonists—anything from the fear of romantic commitment to serial killing—stem from their troubled relationships with their mothers during childhood. How did we come to hold these views about the determinant power of mother love over an individual’s emotional development? And what does this vision of mother love entail for children and mothers?
In The Nature and Nurture of Love, Marga Vicedo examines scientific views about children’s emotional needs and mother love from World War II until the 1970s, paying particular attention to John Bowlby’s ethological theory of attachment behavior. Vicedo tracks the development of Bowlby’s work as well as the interdisciplinary research that he used to support his theory, including Konrad Lorenz’s studies of imprinting in geese, Harry Harlow’s experiments with monkeys, and Mary Ainsworth’s observations of children and mothers in Uganda and the United States. Vicedo’s historical analysis reveals that important psychoanalysts and animal researchers opposed the project of turning emotions into biological instincts. Despite those criticisms, she argues that attachment theory was paramount in turning mother love into a biological need. This shift introduced a new justification for the prescriptive role of biology in human affairs and had profound—and negative—consequences for mothers and for the valuation of mother love.
University of Toronto historian of science Mark Solovey has just released a new book, Shaky Foundations: The Politics-Patronage-Social Science Nexus in Cold War America. This book examines the history of the social sciences in America during the Cold War through the lens of the patronage system, tracing how certain agendas dictated the direction social science research took. This book is a continuation of Solovey’s research interest in social science in America in the period after World War II.
Shaky Foundations is described on the publisher’s website as follows,
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Numerous popular and scholarly accounts have exposed the deep impact of patrons on the production of scientific knowledge and its applications. Shaky Foundations provides the first extensive examination of a new patronage system for the social sciences that emerged in the early Cold War years and took more definite shape during the 1950s and early 1960s, a period of enormous expansion in American social science.
By focusing on the military, the Ford Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, Mark Solovey shows how this patronage system presented social scientists and other interested parties, including natural scientists and politicians, with new opportunities to work out the scientific identity, social implications, and public policy uses of academic social research. Solovey also examines significant criticisms of the new patronage system, which contributed to widespread efforts to rethink and reshape the politics-patronage-social science nexus starting in the mid-1960s.
Based on extensive archival research, Shaky Foundations addresses fundamental questions about the intellectual foundations of the social sciences, their relationships with the natural sciences and the humanities, and the political and ideological import of academic social inquiry.
AHP readers may be interested in a recent piece in the New Yorker titled “Operation Delirium.” The article explores experiments with psycho-chemicals within the United States military during the Cold War. This included the administration of nerve gas, LSD, and other chemicals to soldiers to assess their effects. At present, a class action suit on behalf of the soldiers who were subject to this chemical testing is underway.
As described in the article’s opening paragraph,
Colonel James S. Ketchum dreamed of war without killing. He joined the Army in 1956 and left it in 1976, and in that time he did not fight in Vietnam; he did not invade the Bay of Pigs; he did not guard Western Europe with tanks, or help build nuclear launch sites beneath the Arctic ice. Instead, he became the military’s leading expert in a secret Cold War experiment: to fight enemies with clouds of psychochemicals that temporarily incapacitate the mind—causing, in the words of one ranking officer, a “selective malfunctioning of the human machine.” For nearly a decade, Ketchum, a psychiatrist, went about his work in the belief that chemicals are more humane instruments of warfare than bullets and shrapnel—or, at least, he told himself such things. To achieve his dream, he worked tirelessly at a secluded Army research facility, testing chemical weapons on hundreds of healthy soldiers, and thinking all along that he was doing good.
Journalist Raffi Khatchadourian, the author of the New Yorker article, was also interviewed by NPR about the story. That interview can be heard on the NPR website here.
Read the full New Yorker piece online here.
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The June 2010 issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, has just been released online. Included in this issue are a number of articles of interest to historians of psychology, many of them featured as part of a Focus section dedicated to New Perspectives on Science and the Cold War.
In the first section of the issue, Deborah Blythe Doroshow explores how classical conditioning principles were used by psychologists in the 1930s to create a bedwetting alarm. The Focus section includes three articles on social science during the Cold War. These tackle the nature of social science during the Cold Ward, mathematical models of rationality that developed during this period, and the science fiction-esque goals of social science. All the articles featured in the Focus section are currently available online for free. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“An Alarming Solution: Bedwetting, Medicine, and Behavioral Conditioning in Mid-Twentieth-Century America,” By Deborah Blythe Doroshow, Program in the History of Science and Medicine, Yale University. The abstract reads:
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This article explores the history of the bedwetting alarm, invented in 1938 by two psychologists to cure enuresis, or bedwetting, using the principles of classical conditioning. Infused with the optimism of behaviorism, the bedwetting alarm unexpectedly proved difficult to implement in practice, bearing a multitude of unanticipated complications that hindered its widespread acceptance. Continue reading