Dr. Bowen based his theory of the family on evolution. This means that his theory of how the human family functions is based on processes which developed prior to the cognitive functions of the frontal cortex. If this is accurate, evidence of processes should be visible in other forms of life. Dr. Bowen read widely and convinced himself of this before moving on to other aspects of his theory. Others have taken up the question.
Dr. Bowen based his theory on observable facts – on what humans do, not on what they say. This distinguishes Bowen family systems theory from other theories of human behavior. It also means that processes are defined in observable terms that can be looked for in other species.
The Chimpanzees of Gombe have been continually observed since 1960 when Jane Goodall started to record their behavior. There are a variety of ways in which this chimpanzee community exhibits behavior which appears to be similar to that of the human. These include:
- Differences in community functioning during changes of leadership (when relationships are less predictable),
- Differences in females functioning as mothers and the subsequent functioning of their offspring,
- Increases of aggression to females, juveniles and infants during times of increased stress, and
- The formation of coalitions to gain or maintain high positions in the male hierarchy.
An example of the differences in females functioning as mothers follows. Flo was a mother who birthed 8 offspring. All but the last of her children, who was born when she was quite elderly and was thought to be intellectually impaired, Flo functioned as a capable, loving mother. She weaned her offspring at the appropriate age and dealt with protests firmly, but with attempts to distract the baby and with comforting gestures. Likewise, she moved her infants from a ventral to dorsal carrying position while traveling at age appropriate times. She was social and allowed other members of the community to hold, examine and play with her infants while avoiding exposing her infants to danger.
As Flo’s infants grew older, she allowed them to associate with peers. Thus, she encouraged increasing age-appropriate independence. Her female offspring appeared to have gained the knowledge which allowed them to grow and become capable, loving mothers. Her sons grew up to become capable leaders. From 1978 to 2014, her sons and grandsons have held the alpha position in the male hierarchy the majority of the time.
In contrast, another female, Passion, functioned less capably as a mother. She weaned her offspring either prior to the appropriate age or allowed her infants to suckle after they should have been weaned. She tried either to move her infants from a ventral to a dorsal riding position or stopped them from riding dorsally before they were old enough to manage. Her young toddlers had difficulty keeping up with her, and were exposed to danger. She seemed oblivious to the fact that she exposed her offspring to danger in this and other circumstances. Her young chimpanzees, who should have been walking, were observed to be riding on her back. This added weight made it more difficult for her to function and deprived her offspring of necessary learning experiences. Likewise, she appeared to be fearful of other chimpanzees and prevented her juveniles from interacting with other peers and adults. Her female offspring also grew up to be less capable mothers.
(I have accumulated data on Gombe and other chimpanzee communities. Anyone who is interested in doing research on these chimpanzees is welcome to the data.)