What Is Attachment Theory
What is Attachment Theory?
Attachment theory was developed by psychologist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby. He created the theory during the 1950s and 1960s and contributed greatly to the work on relationships between children and parents.1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051370/
Bowlby viewed the first connection established by a child and mother to the strongest of all relationships. He believed that the behaviors infants exhibit to prevent separation from a parent were mechanisms created by evolution.2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085672/ Behaviors such as crying, grabbing and holding, and screaming were extreme ways that had evolved in humans. Bowlby hypothesized that these extreme behaviors were reinforced and made stronger through natural selection.
The theory investigates the bond between a caregiver and child. It examines how the bond is created and developed. Working with mentally handicapped children in London in the 1930s, Bowlby realized the impact that the relationship between parent and child has on development.3https://www.pnas.org/content/115/45/11414 Bowlby discovered infants separated from a parent may lead to maladjustment later in life. Through this discovery, he developed attachment theory.
Bowlby’s research found that a child separated from a parent routinely shows signs of distress. Along with colleague James Robertson, Bowlby discovered that when a parent was absent, the child remained in discomfort. This went against behavioral theory, which claimed that children would adapt to a parent being absent if they were fed. Bowlby and Robertson found that being fed or not had no impact on their attachment. Children remained distressed regardless if their parent was absent.
Attachment theory claims that the attachment doesn’t have to be reciprocated by both parties. One individual can be attached to another while the other isn’t attached emotionally or physically.4http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm
The evolution of attachment theory
Attachment theory states that children and parents have an “attachment gene”. This gene is what influences individuals to protect and take care of their children. Bowlby believed attachment was a biological agent and all children are born with the “attachment gene”.
He created the term ‘monotropy’ meaning that there is one central attachment figure for the child to focus on. Bowlby believed that an unsuccessful bond between a child and monotropy meant that negative consequences may occur later in life.
Four types of attachments were identified by Bowlby.
- Secure attachment – Secure attachment signifies a loving and caring bond has been created between the parent and child. Children feel cared for and loved by their parent. They develop the ability to have strong, healthy relationships.
- Anxious-Ambivalent attachment – These children feel unloved in childhood and become emotionally dependent once in adulthood.
- Avoidant attachment – As children, individuals understand their needs for love and attention will not be met. Once these individuals become adults, they avoid relationships and have difficulty expressing their feelings for others. Individuals also struggle to understand others and their own emotions.
- Disorganized attachment – Children in this attachment group exhibit strong rage and anger. They may act in volatile ways thus making it difficult to create bonds with others. As adults, these individuals may shy away from intimate relationships. They may also lack the ability to control emotions.
Attachment theory offers an interesting look at the way children develop. By learning more about attachment theory and children, mental health specialists can understand individuals more thoroughly as adults.
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