The Evolution of Empathy, Cooperation, and Caring – And Graceful Ways to Ride the Roller-Coaster of Romance
Evolution of Bonding and Love
Building on the omnidirectional capacities for cooperation, empathy, and altruism, we have the evolution of pair bonding, culminating in the complexities of human love.
What was the payoff in the “reproductive advantages” of pair bonding – between parents and their young, and between mates – that drives evolution? Humans evolved bonding in large part because childhood is so long – and childhood is so long in order to develop all the faculties of the higher brain functions. We needed ways to bond mothers with children for years and years, ways to bond fathers with children and their mothers for years and years, and ways to bond family groups together for years and years in order to sustain “the village it takes to raise a child.”
Many factors promote bonding, including virtue and empathy, and the capacities for these have certainly evolved over time. Biochemical factors have evolved as well, and let’s consider two of them now: the chemicals dopamine and oxytocin. Both are neurotransmitters in the brain, and oxytocin also functions as a hormone when it acts outside the nervous system. (By the way, dopamine and oxytocin, like many other biochemical factors, are present in other mammals, too, but as with most things human, their effects on us are much more nuanced and elaborate.)