This study illustrates, in a very convincing way, that widely different parent-infant interaction patterns can evolve to become stable and adaptive components of two different but equally successful sub-cultures, existing within the same geographical and linguistic context. When I recall Fouts's observations that in the Bofi farmer tribe it is routine for parents to leave their 2- to 4-year-old toddlers with their 5- to 7-year-old siblings all day without adult supervision, I realized that such practices in our culture are likely to be grounds for removal of children from parental custody by child welfare agencies.
The implications of Fouts's paper are far-reaching. Those of us in the health care and social welfare professions must not simply assume that certain forms of mother-child interactions are “healthy” and other practices are “pathological.” Furthermore, it strongly suggests that we review our ideas of “resilience” and “vulnerability,” as well as our efforts to design interventions, in the light of a broader context of biological and social evolution.
The results of these studies lead to a number of further questions. Ideally, we would like to know, in some detail, how the cultural, psychological, and biological components of the two Bofi tribes' different early caregiving patterns interact in preparing their children for the different kinds of lives they will lead when they are adolescents and adults. But we know a great deal less about biological than about cultural or psychological components of early parenting effects on the developing young.