Carol M. Berman, PhD
Evidence supporting the notion of intergenerational transmission of parental behavior in humans is growing. Given the difficulties of conducting prospective, observationally-based studies of parenting across several generations, it seems reasonable to look for parallel phenomena among our nonhuman primate relatives. Animal models could help place the phenomenon of intergenerational transmission into broader biological and evolutionary perspectives. This paper summarizes previously published data on the intergenerational transmission of one aspect of maternal style (rejection rates) among free-ranging rhesus monkeys and describes briefly more recent data related to the processes or mechanisms by which adult daughters and their mothers may acquire similar rejection styles. The new data suggest that an understanding of mechanisms for human and nonhuman primates may be complicated, and may require cross-species comparative studies of populations living under a variety of demographic and social conditions.
The notion that people tend to reproduce the themes of early life or of preceding generations in the context of later intimate social relationships has been with us for centuries. Artists and scholars alike have argued that parents, in particular, are likely to carry on the styles of parenting to which they were exposed earlier in life. Recently, developmental psychologists have begun to publish quantitative evidence supporting the existence of this phenomenon and shedding some light on the processes involved (see reviews in Belsky and Pensky 1988, Caspi and Elder 1988, Posada et al. 1995). But understandably, such evidence is extremely difficult to gather for long-lived and private species such as humans.