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Tend and Befriend


Explanations > Behaviors > Coping > Tend and Befriend

Description | Discussion | So what?



Tend-and-befriend has been described as the female version of fight-or-flight, as a defensive mechanism that suits their typical situations.

In the tribal context of our evolutionary ancestors, while the men needed aggression or caution as a means of finding food and mates, women had the long and tricky task of bringing up children over many years. They needed to tend to their offspring while building a supportive social network who could help with both daily tasks and occasional disasters. Befriending others, especially women, is a very good way of doing this.


These male-female threat responses are reflected in hormones and neurotransmitters. Testosterone promotes the more aggressive fight-or-flight, while oxytocin creates more socially connected actions and the female hormone estrogen increases oxytocin production. It is not surprising that women are more likely to collaborate in rearing children than men, who will focus on just their own children.

One of the most dangerous things one can do is to threaten a child in front of its mother, who will leap to defend it, even at the risk of her own life. This tending activity is common across many species, not just in humans. When mothers are stressed by other factors, such as work, they have also been found to respond by paying more nurturing attention to their children, whereas fathers are more likely to withdraw or be grumpy.

Note how tend-and-befriend uses 'and', while fight-or-flight uses 'or'. The choice of the latter highlights the momentary life-or-death decision that men often faced, while the female 'and' is a more cautious, comprehensive approach that fits with the greater risk of the nurturing role.

Of course even though there are historic and genetic tendencies, both men and women use both patterns. Women may need occasional aggression and men benefit from friendship. In particular in a liberated society, gender stereotypes and traits need not constrain us. Indeed, when others, whatever their sex, creed and so on, have useful abilities, it makes sense to learn and copy what we can.

So what?

When influencing men and women, particularly in a way that will stimulate a defensive reaction, note how they may react differently and plan accordingly.

See also

Fight-or-Flight Reaction


Taylor, S.E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B.P., Gruenewald, T.L., Gurung, R.A.R. and Updegraff, J.A. (2000). Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: Tend-and-befriend, not fight-or-flight. Psychological Review. 107, 3, 411–29.


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