In the six years since Scientific American Mind began, I’ve learned a lot about how the mind and brain work. No surprise there. What is startling is how some articles can still make me completely rethink things that I thought I knew.
One such piece is this issue’s cover story, “Get Attached,” by psychiatrist and neuroscientist Amir Levine and psychologist Rachel S. F. Heller. The importance of attachment—a sound emotional relationship—between a child and a parent has long been well understood. Essentially, the more secure the emotional bond, the more able the child is to develop independence and head into the world successfully. Different types of attachment styles also predict behavior.
I had no idea, however, that attachment goes beyond the links between parents and children. Adults who set out to find romantic relationships, too, display different types of attachment styles—and those styles predict behavior with unnerving accuracy. An understanding of our own attachment style and that of our partner can also predict our eventual happiness in a given relationship. The important take-home message is that you don’t have to leave your love life to chance: psychological science can help. When you are done reading the article, you can visit www.ScientificAmerican.com/mind/jan2011/quiz to find a survey that identifies attachment styles.
Connections loom large for people, because humans are such social creatures. Getting along with others helps us succeed as individuals. What about the opposite—when a person is ostracized, or shunned, by a group? The sad result is pain that can be physical as well as mental, as psychologist Kipling D. Williams explains in “The Pain of Exclusion.” The sting (which, in experiments, actually was lessened with pain reliever) is an evolutionarily helpful reminder to try to get along with others to enhance the odds of survival. As Ben Franklin, commenting about the likelihood of the Revolutionary patriots avoiding the noose for treason, wryly put it: “If we do not hang together, we will most assuredly hang separately.”
This article was originally published with the title Together and Apart.