The Cultural Evolution of Human Bonding

Animal species’ need for positive social connections and bonding has deep evolutionary roots. According to scientific evidence, many animals, including birds, dogs, cats, and primates, exhibit social emotions, behaviors, and a need for bonding and love. They are capable of loving and need the love of others.

Humans have evolved into one of nature’s most social species, though sociability varies between individuals. People’s feelings of love for one another have evolved into more complex forms of bonding.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the origins of the need for love and attachment are the needs for bonding and belonging. We may therefore assume that love and the need for love are widespread among animals and humans, with species and individual differences (Karandashev, 2022).

Human bonding and love have evolved over time, both biologically and culturally. Researchers have traced their evolutionary roots all the way back to the beginnings of biological evolution and human domestication, as well as the history of cultural evolution (Karandashev, 2022, chapter 3).

The Evolution of the Need to Belong to an In-Group

Humans developed motivation for positive social connection with others early in their cultural evolution. Their need for human bonding and love evolved. Due to biological and cultural evolution, humans are the most “social animals” among various animal species. People have survived by working together, assisting, and supporting one another, their families, and their tribe.

Early tribal societies required cooperation and coordination, which inspired the development of bonding, attachment, and love. The main driver of emotional attraction and attachment between people that consolidated their relationships was “love,” understood broadly as “bonding.”

The distinction between “ingroup” and “outgroup” provided the evolutionary basis for the need for community bonding and kinship love. People were able to differentiate between those they identified as members of their “ingroup” and those they identified as members of their “outgroup.”

Since then, their need to belong to the “ingroup” and to love the members of the “ingroup”—kin, family, and significant others—became their intrinsic human motivation. The feeling that they belonged to an “ingroup” provided them with security, sustenance, and psychological ties with significant others.

Early Community Bonding and Dutiful Love

Cultural evolution began with tribal and community love. This kind of love fitted the ecological, economic, and social conditions of those ancient times. Tribal community-based societies had united, collaborative, supportive, and responsible social relationships. The “need to belong” and “community love” bonded individuals within a group—the tribal community, kin, and extended family.

This dutiful love suited people’s interdependent lifestyles in those ecological and social conditions perfectly. Men and women experienced this “collective love” as community responsibility. People in a tribe worked cooperatively, supported and protected each other, and raised their offspring. An extended family and tribal community rather than parents raised their children together. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” was a community-bonding reality.

Cultural Evolution and Varieties of Relationship Systems

Human societies, like social animal groups, have a wide range of mating and social bonding relationship systems. There are varieties of multi-male and multi-female social groups. In these types of societal organizations, groups comprise several adult males and/or several adult females, as well as their offspring.

These types of sociality, for example, are common in many nonhuman primates. The relationship systems of primates vary greatly in their community and family organization. In such multi-male, multi-female societies, many male and female individuals form large social groups. They practice polygamous relationships, in which both females and males can mate with multiple members of the opposite sex.

Many of our human ancestors also had multi-male and multi-female social organizations of this kind. However, different from their ape ancestors and other species, human relationship organization and mating systems have evolved further (Chapais, 2011; de Waal & Gavrilets, 2013; Flinn, Geary, & Ward, 2005).

Human evolution developed a different relationship system that emphasized long-term pair-bonding mating and extended and nuclear families. Since then, people in many traditional collectivistic societies live in extended or nuclear families and reproduce offspring with substantial parental investment. Evolutionary forces have made it advantageous for humans. The “need to belong” to a tribal community transformed into the need to belong to an extended or nuclear family. Long-term pair bonding has evolved and become a widespread cultural form of relationship systems in many societies around the world. (Geary & Flinn, 2001; Hill et al., 2011; Rooker & Gavrilets, 2016).

Evolution of Pair-Bonding

Later in human social evolution, in addition to social bonding, the relationship system of pair bonding and attachment evolved as the evolutionary mechanism of bonding. Human societies’ extended family structures began to give way to nuclear family structures.

In the process of natural selection, the human “attachment behavioral system” evolved over time as a motivational system “designed” to regulate proximity to an attachment figure. The attachment behavioral system gradually became more favorable to pair-bonding attachment (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980).