9-2 | Ethology, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and Play


Ethology, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and Play
Insights into the Evolutionary Origin of the Arts

Ellen Dissanayake


The author considers the biological basis of the arts in human evolution, which she holds to be grounded in ethology and interpersonal neurobi-ology. In the arts, she argues, ordinary reality becomes extraordinary by attention-getting, emotionally salient devices that also appear in ritualized animal behaviors, many kinds of play, and the playful interactions of human mothers with their infants. She hypothesizes that these interactions evolved in humans as a behavioral adaptation to a reduced gestation period, promot-ing emotional bonding between human mothers and their especially help-less infants. She notes that the secretion of opioids, including oxytocin, that accompany birth, lactation, and care giving in all mammals is amplified in human mothers by these devices, producing feelings of intimacy and trust that engender better child care. The same devices, exapted and acquired culturally as arts, she argues, became prominent features of group ritual ceremonies that reduced anxiety and unified participants, which also offered evolutionary advantages. Key words: artification; ethology; interpersonal neurobiology; mother-infant play; origins of the arts