Tend and Befriend
The tend and befriend instinct contrasts with the fight or flight instinct, and was originally outlined by psychologist Shelley Taylor. While the fight or flight instinct encourages people to flee or become aggressive in stressful situations, the tend and befriend instinct encourages people to reach out to others.
What is Tend and Befriend?
Most research into fear and threat responses has focused on the need to escape or surmount the threat, but the tend and befriend response focuses on the desire to build affiliative connections and seek the help of others. For example, a woman who feels threatened at work might reach out to her husband or attempt to develop deeper friendships with her co-workers. A child who is bullied at school might ask for help from his teacher or parents.
There is evidence that tend and befriend also has an instinctive basis. Just as the fight or flight instinct is fueled by adrenaline, the tend and befriend instinct may be fueled by oxytocin in response to the release of cortisol.
Tend, Befriend, and Gender
Some researchers have emphasized that women are more likely to tend and befriend, while men are more likely to fight or flee; this claim continues to be debated, and there is significant debate about whether any gender difference is due to environment, genes, or some combination of both. Both men and women are capable of tending and befriending, and some nonhuman animals also display a tend and befriend instinct.
Role in Mental Health
The fight or flight instinct can lead to interpersonal conflict. A fighting couple, for example, might run into problems when one of them begins screaming and the other leaves the home. The tend and befriend instinct, by contrast, is more likely to build cooperative connections, and some therapists work to help their clients cultivate this instinct.
- Taylor, S. E. (2006). Tend and Befriend: Biobehavioral Bases of Affiliation Under Stress. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(6), 273-277. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00451.x
Last Updated: 08-28-2015
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