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**The Tending Instinct

by Shelley E. Taylor

Reviewed October 29, 2002.
Times Books, New York, 2002.  290 pages (199 pages of text, plus notes).
Available at Sembach Library.  (304.5 TAY)

I found the premise of The Tending Instinct intriguing.  The author discovered that the research that established that people have a “fight or flight” response to stress was almost all conducted on only male subjects.  The rationale was that scientists did not want women’s hormone fluctuations to skew the results.  The author contends that this methodology itself skewed the results.  She argues that many people, especially women, can best respond to stress if they “tend and befriend.”  She looks at how social relationships, care-giving, and tending others help people live longer and healthier lives.

The book covered some interesting applications of this idea.  She did use her ideas to emphasize the importance of mothers and fathers in children’s lives.  There were some fascinating examples of the role of tending in people’s lives.

I’m afraid I tend to get impatient with books that devote a large amount of space to how evolution could have produced the behavior they are discussing.  This author does mention that she doesn’t want to be making up “Just So” stories.  However, I’m afraid that’s how I feel that most of these theories turn out—speculative at best.  I would rather more information about current research on humans than hear speculation about what our ancestors were like or stories about how primates behave.   I wouldn’t mind a little bit, but I got impatient in this book at how such things popped up in every chapter.

I read this book over several days rather than in one sitting, so perhaps that’s why I didn’t find a strong unified message.  Two ideas did stick with me.  First, people are not perhaps as competitive as we are lead to believe.  Second, and most important, when I am under stress, I should make an effort to reach out to other people rather than withdrawing or lashing out.  “Tend and befriend” is a good response to stress!

I do think that the ideas here are worth reading and thinking about.  I hope that this one will not be the only book on this topic. 

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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