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Human bonding is the development of a close, interpersonal relationship between family members or friends. Bonding is a mutual, interactive process, and is not the same as simple liking. The term is from the 12th century, Middle English word band or band, which refers to something that binds, ties, or restrains. In early usage, a bondman, bondwoman, or bondservant was a feudal serf that was obligated to work for his or her lord without pay (in modern usage, a bondsman is a person who provides bonds or surety for someone).

Bonding typically refers to the process of attachment that develops between romantic partners, close friends, or parents and children. This bond is characterized by emotions such as affection and trust. Any two people that spend time together may form a bond. Male bonding refers to the establishment of relationships between men through shared activities that often exclude females. The term female bonding is less frequently used, but refers to the formation of close personal relationships between women.

Early views

In the 4th century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato argued that love directs the bonds of human society. In his Symposium, Eryximachus, one of the narrators in the dialog, states that love goes far beyond simple attraction to human beauty. He states that it occurs throughout the animal and plant kingdoms, as well as throughout the universe. Love directs everything that occurs, in the realm of the gods as well as that of humans (186a-b).

Eyrximachus reasons that when various opposing elements such as wet and dry are "animated by the proper species of Love, they are in harmony with one another... But when the sort of Love that is crude and impulsive controls the seasons, he brings death and destruction" (188a). Because it is love that guides the relations between these sets of opposites throughout existence, in every case it is the higher form of love that brings harmony and cleaves toward the good, whereas the impulsive vulgar love creates disharmony.

Plato concludes that the highest form of love is the greatest. When love "is directed, in temperance and justice, towards the good, whether in heaven or on earth: happiness and good fortune, the bonds of human society, concord with the gods above- all these are among his gifts" (188d).

In the 1660s, the Dutch philosopher Spinoza wrote, in his Ethics of Human Bondage or the Strength of the Emotions, that the term "bondage" relates to the human infirmity in moderating and checking the emotions. That is, according to Spinoza, "when a man is prey to his emotions, he is not his own master, but lies at the mercy of fortune."

In 1809 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in his classic novella Elective Affinities, wrote of the "marriage tie," and by analogy shows how strong marriage unions are similar in character to that by which the particles of quicksilver find a unity together though the process of chemical affinity. Humans in passionate relationships, according to Goethe, are analogous to reactive substances in a chemical equation.

Pair bonding

The term, pair-bond originated in 1940 in reference to mated pairs of birds. It is a generic term signifying a monogamous or relatively monogamous relationship in either humans or animals. The term is commonly used in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Pair-bonding, usually of a fairly short duration, occurs in a variety of primate species. Some scientists speculate that prolonged bonds developed in humans along with increased sharing of food.

Limerent bond

According to limerence theory, positioned in 1979 by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, a certain percentage of couples may go through what is called a limerent reaction, in which one or both of the pair may experience a state of passion mixed with continuous intrusive thinking, fear of rejection, and hope. Hence, with all human romantic relationships, one of three varieties of bonds may form, defined over a set duration of time, in relation to the experience or non-experience of limerence:
  1. Affectional bond: define relationships in which neither partner is limerent.
  2. Limerent-Nonlimerent bond: define relationships in which one partner is limerent.
  3. Limerent-Limerent bond: define relationships in which both partners are limerent.
The constitution of these bonds may vary over the course of the relationship, in ways that may either increase or decrease the intensity of the limerence. The basis and interesting characteristic of this delineation made by Tennov, is that based on her research and interviews with over 500 people, all human bonded relationships can be divided into three varieties being defined by the amount of limerence or non-limerence each partner contributes to the relationship.

Parental bonding


In 1958, British developmental psychologist John Bowlby published the ground-breaking paper "the Nature of the Child's Tie to his Mother", in which the precursory concepts of "attachment theory" were developed. This included the development of the concept of the affectional bond, sometimes referred to as the emotional bond, which is based on the universal tendency for humans to attach, i.e. to seek closeness to another person and to feel secure when that person is present. Attachment theory has some of its origins in the observation of and experiments with animals, but is also based on observations of children who had missed typical experiences of adult care. Much of the early research on attachment in humans was done by John Bowlby and his associates. Bowlby proposed that babies have an inbuilt need from birth to make emotional attachments, i.e. bonds, because this increases the chances of survival by ensuring that they receive the care they need.Bowlby did not describe mutuality in attachment. He stated that attachment by mother was a pathological inversion and described only behaviors of the infant. Ainsworth attempted to follow this amazing tunnel vision, but found she could not avoid eye-to-eye contact with infant and mother. She was not successful in the use of infant gaze because she did not differentiate frightened hyper-alert states from affectonant interaction. Many developmental specialists elaborated Bowlby's ethological observations. However, neither Bowlby's proximity seeking (not possible for human infants prior to walking) nor subsequent descriptions of caregiver-infant mutuality with emotional availability and synchrony with emotional modulation include the enduring motivation of attachment into adult life.The enduring motivation is the desire to control a pleasantly surprising transformation that is the route of belief in effectiveness by humans. This motivation accounts for curiosity and intellectual growth of language, mathematics and logic all of which have an emotional base of security. See Smith, R.H. and Ostfeld, B.M. "Engageance, a Practical Elaboration of Attachment in Mother's of At-Risk Infants. Int.J.Family Pyschiatry, 1984.

Maternal bonding

Of all human bonds, the maternal bond is one of the strongest. The maternal bond begins to develop during pregnancy; following pregnancy, the production of oxytocin during lactation increases parasympathetic activity, thus reducing anxiety and theoretically fostering bonding. It is generally understood that maternal oxytocin circulation can predispose some mammals to show caregiving behavior in response to young of their species.

Breastfeeding has been reported to foster the early post-partum maternal bond, via touch, response, and mutual gazing. Extensive claims for the effect of breastfeeding were made in the 1930s by Margaret Ribble, a champion of "infant rights", but were rejected on scientific grounds. The claimed effect is not universal, and bottle-feeding mothers are generally appropriately concerned with their babies. It is difficult to determine the extent of causality due to a number of confounding variables, such as the varied reasons families choose different feeding methods. Many believe that early bonding ideally increases response and sensitivity to the child's needs, bolstering the quality of the mother-baby relationship – however, many exceptions can be found of highly successful mother-baby bonds, even though early breastfeeding did not occur, such as with premature infants who may lack the necessary sucking strength to successfully breastfeed.
Father playing with his young daughter - an activity that tends to strengthen the father-child bond.

Paternal bonding

In contrast to the maternal bond, paternal bonds tend to vary over the span of a child’s development in terms of both strength and stability. In fact, many children now grow up in fatherless households and do not experience a paternal bond at all. In general, paternal bonding is more dominant later in a child’s life after language develops. Fathers may be more influential in play-interactions as opposed to nurturance-interactions. Father-child bonds also tend to develop with respect to topics such as political views or money, whereas mother-child bonds tend to develop in relation to topics such as religious views or general outlooks on life.

In 2003, researcher from Northwestern University in Illinois found that progesterone, a hormone more usually associated with pregnancy and maternal bonding, may also control the way men react towards their children. Specifically, they found that a lack of progesterone reduced aggressive behaviour in male mice and stimulated them to act in a fatherly way towards their offspring.

Human-animal bonding

Human-animal bond human to animal contact is known to reduce the physiological characteristics of stress.

The human-animal bond can be defined as a connection between people and animals, domestic or wild; be it a cat as a pet or birds outside one’s window. Research into the nature and merit of the human animal bond began in the late 1700s when, in York, England, the Society of Friends established the The Retreatmarker to provide humane treatment for the mentally ill. By having patients care for the many farm animals on the estate, society officials theorized that the combination of animal contact plus productive work would facilitate the patients’ rehabilitation. In the 1870s in Paris, a French surgeon had patients with neurological disorders ride horses. The patients were found to have improved their motor control and balance and were less likely to suffer bouts of depression.

In the 19th century, in Bielefeld, Germany, epileptic patients were given the prescription to spend time each day taking care of cats and dogs. The contact with the animals was found to reduce the occurrence of seizures. In 1980, a team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvaniamarker found that human to animal contact was found to reduce the physiological characteristics of stress; specifically, lowered levels of blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, anxiety, and tension were all found to correlate positively with human pet bonding.

Historically, animals were domesticated for functional use; for example, dogs for herding and tracking, and cats for killing mice or rats. Today, in Western societies, their function is primarily a bonding function. For example, current studies show that 60–80% of dogs sleep with their owners at night in the bedroom, either in or on the bed. Moreover, in the past the majority of cats were kept outside (barn cats) whereas today most cats are kept indoors (housecats) and considered part of the family. Presently, in the US, for example, 1.2 billion animals are kept as pets, primarily for bonding purposes. In addition, as of 1995 there were over 30 research institutions looking into the potential benefits of the human animal bond.


There is evidence in a variety of species that the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin are involved in the bonding process, and in other forms of prosocial and reproductive behavior. Both chemicals facilitate pair bonding and maternal behavior in experiments on laboratory animals. In humans, there is evidence that oxytocin and vasopressin are released during labor and breastfeeding, and that these events are associated with maternal bonding. According to one model, social isolation leads to stress, which is associated with activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the release of cortisol. Positive social interaction is associated with increased oxytocin. This leads to bonding, which is also associated with higher levels of oxytocin and vasopressin, and reduced stress and stress-related hormones.

Oxytocin is associated with higher levels of trust in laboratory studies on humans. It has been called the "cuddle chemical" for its role in facilitating trust and attachment. In the reward centers of the limbic system, the neurotransmitter, dopamine may interact with oxytocin and further increase the likelihood of bonding. One team of researchers has argued that oxytocin only plays a secondary role in affiliation, and that endogenous opiates play the central role. According to this model, affiliation is a function of the brain systems underlying reward and memory formation.

Because the vast majority of this research has been done on animals-- and the majority of that on rodents-- these findings must be taken with caution when applied to humans. One of the few studies that looked at the influence of hormones on human bonding compared participants who had recently fallen in love with a control group. There were no differences for most of the hormones measured, including LH, estradiol, progesterone, DHEAS, and androstenedione. Testosterone and FSH were lower in men who had recently fallen in love, and there was also a difference in blood cortisol for both sexes, with higher levels in the group that was in love. These differences disappeared after 12-28 months and may reflect the temporary stress and arousal of a new relationship.

Weak ties

In 1962, Mark Granovetter, a freshman history major at Harvardmarker, became enamored with the concepts underlying the classic chemistry lecture in which "weak" hydrogen bonds hold huge water molecule together, which themselves are held together by "strong" covalent bonds. This model was the stimulus behind his famous 1973 paper The Strength of Weak Ties, which is now considered a classic paper in sociology.

Weak social bonds are believed to be responsible for the majority of the embeddedness and structure of social networks in society as well as the transmission of information through these networks. Specifically, more novel information flows to individuals through weak than through strong ties. Because our close friends tend to move in the same circles that we do, the information they receive overlaps considerably with what we already know. Acquaintances, by contrast, know people that we do not, and thus receive more novel information.

Debonding and loss

In 1976, sociologist Diane Vaughan proposed an “uncoupling theory”, where, during the dynamics of relationship breakup, there exists a "turning point", only noted in hindsight, followed by a transition period in which one partner unconsciously knows the relationship is going to end, but holds on to it for an extended period, sometimes for a number of years.

When a person to which one has become bonded is lost, a grief response may occur. Grief is the process of accepting the loss and adjusting to the changed situation. Grief may take longer than the initial development of the bond, typically one to two years for the loss of a marital partner. The grief process varies with culture.

See also


  1. Webster’s New World College Dictionary © 1996.
  2. The Free Dictionary
  3. Online Etymology Dictionary - Search: "pair bond"
  4. Microsoft Encarta 2006. Premium Edition © 1993–2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
  5. Cesk, Cas Lek. (2000). " Development of the Maternal Bond during Pregnancy." Jan 19 ; 139(1): 5-8.
  6. Ribble, M. (1939). The significance of infantile sucking for the psychic development of the individual. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 90, 455-463.
  7. Pinneau, S.R. (1950). A critique on the articles by Margaret Ribble. Child Development, 21(4),203-228.
  8. Rossi, A. & Rossi, P. (1990). Of Human Bonding: Parent Child Relations Across the Life Course. Chicago: Aldine. ISBN 0-202-30361-6
  9. Levine, Jon (2003). " Secret of Paternal Bond." BBC News / Health, Tuesday, 25 February.
  10. Latter, L. (1995). Article: “Human Pet Bonding”. Source: Animal Welfare Society – Southeastern Michigan.
  11. Article: “The Changing Status of Human-Animal Bonds”. Source: University of Minnesota.
  12. Carter, C. S. (1998). Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 23, 779-818.
  13. Depue, R. A., & Morrone-Strupinsky, J. V. (2005). A neurobehavioral model of affiliative bonding: Implications for conceptualizing a human trait of affliation. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28, 313-395.
  14. Marazziti, D., & Canale, D. (2004). Hormonal changes when falling in love. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 29, 931-936.
  15. Granovetter, M.D. (2004). " The Impact of Social Structures on Economic Development." Journal of Economic Perspectives (Vol 19 Number 1, pp. 33–50).

Further reading


  • Miller, W.B. & Rodgers, J.L. (2001). The Ontogeny of Human Bonding Systems: Evolutionary Origins, Neural Bases, and Psychological Manifestations. New York: Springer. ISBN 0-7923-7478-9


  • Thorne, L. (2006). " Of Human Bonding" - Condo Dwellers Find Cool Ways to Connect With the Neighbors., Express (, Mon., (Aug. 07)

External links


Baby bonding

Adoption bonding

Human-animal bonding

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