Friday, August 17, 2018

Attachment and Attachment Theory

Anyone who has been around infants has a sense of the attachment bond between infants and their parents. 

Psychologists used to think the bonding was based on the infant’s natural desire for milk but that explanation changed when Harry and Margaret Harlow noticed that monkeys in their labs clung to their blankets when separated from their mothers. And they became very distressed when the blankets were taken away to be washed. In other studies, they found that young monkeys clung to cloth covered wire monkeys for security when anxious and as a safety point when exploring.
Studies with human infants support the two dimensions function of attachment. Attachment figures provide safety and security for their young. Clinicians have focused on the problems that occur when people lack safe and trusting parents or caregivers thus, it is common to think of the two negative ends of the two dimensions—anxiety and avoidance. You can picture the two dimensions using two lines.

Close/ safe
Avoidant/ unsafe

Calm/ Secure
Anxious/ Insecure

Several researchers, notably Mary Ainsworth, studied infant attachment in humans. Most children feel secure enough to play in a strange setting when their parent is present. If the parent leaves, they become distressed and quickly head toward the parent when the parent returns. Most cling to their parent in strange settings. Early studies showed that warm, kind, and nurturing mothers has more secure infants than did mothers who were insensitive and unresponsive.

Familiarity Breeds Content.
Konrad Lorenz is famous for his studies of imprinting—newly hatched ducks followed him as if he were their parent. Children do not imprint (i.e., form attachments) like ducks but they do feel more secure in familiar surroundings and in the presence of familiar objects. The observation has been called the mere exposure effect. Young children enjoy familiar toys, rereading familiar stories and videos. Adults continue to enjoy familiar foods, places, and people. Most enjoy old photos and familiar stories from childhood.

Separation or Lack of Attachment
Researchers have documented the serious problems found among children raised in institutions without loving caregivers. Such children are easily frightened, withdrawn, and may be speechless. Children who have been abused when young are at risk for abusing children when they become parents. Although many violent adults were abused as children, the reverse is not true. Many abused children do not become violent adults.

Adult attachment has been studied by various scientists. Nancy Collins of UCSB and her colleagues developed a measure of Adult Attachment, which includes a subscale of "Depend," which measures how much a person feels they can depend on someone when needed. This scale, revised in 1996, measures romantic relationships. There is also a reworded version that can be used to assess attachment in close relationships rather than only romantic ones.

Related Posts

Attachment to God

Attachment to God Inventory

Adult Attachment Scale


Ainsworth, M. S., & Bowlby, J. (1991). An ethological approach to personality development. American Psychologist, 46(4), 333-341. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.46.4.333

Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, 28(5), 759-775. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.28.5.759

Collins, N. L. (1996).  Working models of attachment: Implications for explanation, emotion, and behavior.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 810-832.

Collins, N. L., & Read, S. J. (1990).  Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 644-663.

Harlow, H. F. (1958). The nature of love. American Psychologist, 13, 673–685.

Suomi, S. J., van der Horst, F. P., & van der Veer, R. (2008). Rigorous experiments on monkey love: An account of Harry F. Harlow's role in the history of attachment theory. Integrative Psychological & Behavioral Science, 42(4), 354-369. doi:10.1007/s12124-008-9072-9

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