An Evolutionary and Developmental Science Framework for Integrating Attachment, Mentalization, and Mindfulness: Implications for Religious Practice and Moral Development
Kreiselmaier, Andrew Kent
This dissertation presents evolutionary and developmental science models that integrate attachment theory and mentalization theory with mindfulness meditation. Attachment researchers study the quality of the evolved bond between infants and caregivers and its effects on childhood and adult functioning. Mentalization theorists examine the development of the human capacity to understand the behavior of self and others in terms of underlying mental states. Mindfulness therapists emphasize dis-identifying with painful thoughts by attending to and accepting our present, unfolding experience. Attachment- and mentalization-based therapies are relational, developmental, conscious- and unconscious-oriented, reflective, and past/present/future-oriented. Mindfulness therapies are intrapersonal, non-developmental, non-reflective, bodily- and mentally-focused, and present-oriented. Research suggests both approaches can treat the same affective and anxiety disorders. Both also cause changes in the brain, often in different neural networks. How might we explain this? I answer by appealing to evolution and human development. We see disparities in the research literatures because psychotherapy and meditation invoke different mechanisms in the brain, which have evolved in different periods of mammalian and human history. This dissertation has three central premises. First, attachment, mentalization, and mindfulness can be integrated in evolutionary and developmental models of human functioning. Attachment came first (200 million years ago); mentalization came second (200,000 years ago); and mindfulness came third (2,500 years ago). The neural mechanisms and psychological capacities underlying mentalization and mindfulness are shaped by early attachment bonds. Deficits in these capacities can account for problems encountered in meditation. Second, Buddhism, like all religions, builds upon attachment-related processes. Buddhist philosophies, rituals, and practices are suffused with attachment themes. Third, early attachment bonds shape moral sensibilities and empathy. Buddhist ethical and meditative practices have an important role to play in our globalized, interdependent world in helping us to extend empathy to others.