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Cortina, M. Liotti, G. (2010). Attachment is about Safety and Protection, Intersubjectivity is about Sharing and Social Understanding: The Relationships between Attachment and Inter Subjectivity. Psychoanal. Psychol., 27(4):410-441.

(2010). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 27(4):410-441

Attachment is about Safety and Protection, Intersubjectivity is about Sharing and Social Understanding: The Relationships between Attachment and Inter Subjectivity

Mauricio Cortina, M.D. and Giovanni Liotti, M.D.

The relationships between intersubjectivity and attachment are beginning to be explored within the psychoanalytic and developmental literature. We contribute to this comparative effort by exploring the different evolutionary origins of attachment and intersubjectivity. Five interlocking themes are central to this article. First, from an evolutionary perspective, attachment and intersubjectivity serve different functions. The main function of attachment is to seek protection, whereas the main function of intersubjectivity is to communicate, at intuitive and automatic levels, with members of the same species and to facilitate social understanding. Second, to survive in changing and highly competitive environments, an evolutionary strategy emerged among our human ancestors based on developing high levels of cooperation within small bands of hunters and gatherers. In turn, high levels of cooperation and social complexity put selective pressures toward developing effective modes of communication and more complex forms of social understanding (mindreading/mentalizing/intersubjective abilities). These abilities far surpass mindreading abilities among our closest Great Ape relatives. Third, we provide further evidence for this hypothesis showing that in comparison with other Great Apes, young children show qualitatively different levels of collaboration and altruism. Fourth, we provide an overview of the development of attachment and intersubjective abilities during the first 2 years of life that support the hypothesis of a cooperative origin of intersubjectivity. Fifth, we return to the main theme of this article showing three ways in which attachment and intersubjective abilities can be distinguished. We conclude by exploring some clinical implications of this cooperative-intersubjective model of human development.

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