History of Attachment Theory


Abstract How relationships are developed and the people that they are developed with as a child, is critical to the development of behaviors and relationships in adulthood. The theory of attachment in based solely around this very principle. The patterns a child displays towards primary caregivers and how those caregivers respond to the needs of that child will predict how that child will respond to relationship and change as an adult. Attachment Theory The forces that drive relationships between individuals and the affects those forces have on them, define the theory of attachment.

It is said to have become the “dominant approach in understanding interpersonal relationships” (Bretherton, 1992). The relationships developed from the time of infancy are critical to the development of relationships throughout that child’s life. Within attachment theory, attachment defines an affectionate connection between two individuals. Such relationships may also be mutual between two adults, but when applied to the relationship between a child and a caregiver, these bonds are based on that child’s need for safety, security and protection; qualities that are fundamental in infancy nd childhood.

There are different classifications for how children, as well as adults, attach to other individuals. These attachment classifications can forecast how well or how poor the infant will engage in relationships in their adult life. Although there are a number of psychologists whose work was centered on attachment theory, the research that has been done so far to support it can mostly be credited to the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. While their work was done decades ago, it is still prominent, and relative to the views of modern psychology. What is Attachment Theory?

Infants become connected to adults who are caring and respond to their needs when socially interacting with them, and who remain consistent as caregivers between the ages of about six months to two years. At the stage in an infant’s life when they begin to crawl and walk, they start using familiar people, also known as attachment tgures, as a dependable basis to center their lives around. The response they receive from those attachment fgures leads to the development of attachment patterns and internal works that guide their perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and expectations in later relationships (Stern, 1985).

Even though the origins of attachment theory are based on the effects the caregiver has on the infant, the child also, in turn, affects the caregiver. This process is referred to as “mutual regulation” (Tronick, 1989). In order for the caregiver to give the child a sense of security, they must be able to adapt to the behaviors of the child. The caregiver’s sensitivity and responsiveness is a crucial contribution to the ability for that child to regulate their emotions and develop an attachment (Stern, 1985). The Work of John Bowlby Attachment theory in psychology originates with the influential work of John

Bowlby, who is known as the father of attachment theory. In the early 1900’s, Bowlby worked as a psychiatrist in a Child Guidance Clinic in London, where he treated many emotionally disturbed children (McLeod, 2009). He believed that early experiences in childhood greatly affect the on one’s behavior and development throughout life. Being that he suffered from the effects of separation and lacking a consistent caregiver, he took his work with attachment theory very personal and could relate to the children he dealt with.

John Bowlby believed that there were four different points hat contributed to attachment: proximity maintenance, safe haven, secure base, and separation distress (Cherry, 2002). Proximity maintenance is a child’s need to be around the people that they have grown attached to. When a child seeks their caregiver for comfort when faced with fear or when they feel threatened, that person is considered a safe haven. The child’s caregiver is considered a secure base when they are the center of security and the child feels safe enough to explore the surrounding environment.

If the child becomes uneasy about being away from their caregiver, they are displaying separation distress. John Bowlby had a huge contribution to the theory of attachment; however, he was Just one of the many important psychologists who studied this area. Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation In the 1970’s, psychologist Mary Ainsworth expanded on Bowlbys groundbreaking work in her renowned “Strange Situation” experiment. This study involved observing toddlers between the ages of 12 and 18 months and their responses to being briefly separated from their mothers.

The Strange Situation was formatted into several parts that extended over the course of 20 minutes. First the mother and child enter into layroom with toys that would interest toddler of that age, where they are then joined by an unfamiliar woman. While the stranger is playing with the toddler, the mother leaves but returns after a brief amount of time away from the room. Then, both the mother and the strange woman leave, and the toddler is left completely alone. Finally, the stranger returns to the room with the mother following shortly after (Bretherton, 1992).

Ainsworth became fascinated with the unexpected responses of the children upon being separated and then reunited with their mothers. A few of the children were angry with their mothers upon their return to he room; they cried and reached out for their mothers when they were reunited with them but were not easily consoled. Instead, they showed their ambivalence by fighting with the mother. Some of the children, although they periodically looked for their mothers, seemed unmoved by the mothers return and even avoided her.

Atter gathering more information on the toddlers who were ambivalent or avoidant towards their mothers when they returned, it was discovered that those children’s home lives were not as pleasant as the children who sought close interaction when their mothers returned (Bretherton, 1992). These observations were the basis for Ainsworth’s three major styles of attachment. Secure attachment described the children who were slightly unsettled by their mother leaving but were able to be calmed down, somewhat played while the mother was away but relieved when she returned.

These children are predicted to develop healthy relationships throughout their lives. Anxious/ambivalent attachment describes the children who were upset that their mother left, not really explorative, could not be consoled by the stranger, wanted contact with their mother when she returned, but were still not easily settled y her. These children are said to be insecure an inconsistent as adults. Avoidant children are ones who are emotionally distant and were not really moved by their mother’s leaving or returning to the room. They tend to be Just as emotionally detached as adults.

Disorganized Attachment A fourth category was established when a considerable amount of children defied the classifications set by Mary Ainsworth following her Strange Situation experiment (Main & Solomon, 1990). When a child has a disorganized attachment, they have an unclear attachment behavior. Their responses are mixed; sometimes avoidant and ometimes even resistant. They are described as being in a daze and some where even apprehensive in the presence of their mother. Main and Solomon (1986) proposed that this behavior was due to inconsistent behavior from the parents.

Later research suggests that parents who impart both fear and comfort in their children cause a disorganized attachment style (Main and Hesse, 1990). The child becomes confused because they feel frightened but also reassured. Adults who developed a disorganized attachment as children, are usually more unpredictable, intrusive, and either easily frightened or frightening. Attachment in Adults In the 1980’s, more interest in adult attachment began to evolve. One of the reasons this occurred was because labs were conducting longitudinal studies on effects of attachment (Sonkin, 2005).

The children from the Strange Situation study had grown up and researchers began to observe the continuity of their attachment patterns. Although the behaviors of infant and adult attachment are similar, the terms to define adult attachment are different. Children who are securely attached are referred to as autonomous adults; ambivalent children are called preoccupied dults; avoidant children are known as dismissing adults; and disorganized children are classified as unresolved adults (Sonkin, 2005).

Upon doing research on attachment in adults, three major points were developed. First is that the attachment behaviors of a child can be predicted by the attachment behaviors displayed in the parent. Second, the attachment behaviors a child has will continue throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Although maturity and experiences can cause a change in attachment classification in either direction, it is not commonly seen. Lastly, insecurely attached adults have a harder time adjusting to change than adults who are securely attached (Sonkin, 2005).

The two most commonly used methods for assessing attachment in adults are interviews and self-report scales. Mary Main developed Adult Attachment Interview ( l) which is the interview most commonly used. It is comprised of 20 questions that ask about an individual’s positive and negative experiences with their parents as a child and also with their own children. Main believed the emotions generated when a person is telling their tory determines how they tell it (Sonkin, 2005). Securely attached adults’ stories tend to be easier to follow.

Dismissive adults had short stories and could not remember many childhood memories experiences; they either denied the negative experiences or Justified that they made them a stronger, more independent person. Preoccupied adults were more long-winded and dwelled on their negative perception of childhood memories; their stories are complicated and harder for the reader to follow. Disorganized adults had gaps when describing negative experiences during their childhood (Sonkin, 2005). dult. The research that has been done on this theory helps to understand the dynamics of how important these relationships are.








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