Attachment Theory

Attachment Theory describes the effects of the way that parents interact with their child during infancy, and the effects that this may have for the child in later life.

These theories help us to understand ourselves, others, and the way that we want to interact with our own children, when we have them.

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this unit of work, you will be able to:
Describe Bowlby's Attachment Theory;
List the Attachment Styles identified by Ainsworth;
Reflect on your own experiences of Attachment.

Task:

1 Read through the pages below and make some notes to help you remember what this was about
2 Answer the questions at the end
Attachment Styles
By Kendra Cherry, About.com Guide
Source: http://psychology.about.com/od/loveandattraction/ss/attachmentstyle.htm

John Bowlby - Attachment Theory

What is Attachment?
Attachment is a special emotional relationship that involves an exchange of comfort, care, and pleasure. The roots of research on attachment began with Freud's theories about love, but another researcher is usually credited as the father of attachment theory.

John Bowlby devoted extensive research to the concept of attachment, describing it as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings" (Bowlby, 1969, p. 194). Bowlby shared the psychoanalytic view that early experiences in childhood have an important influence on development and behavior later in life. Our early attachment styles are established in childhood through the infant/caregiver relationship.

In addition to this, Bowlby believed that attachment had an evolutionary component; it aids in survival. "The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals [is] a basic component of human nature" (Bowlby, 1988, 3).

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Characteristics of AttachmentBowlby believed that there are four distinguishing characteristics of attachment: 1. Proximity Maintenance - The desire to be near the people we are attached to. 2. Safe Haven - Returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of a fear or threat. 3. Secure Base - The attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment. 4. Separation Distress - Anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure. Ainsworth's "Strange Situation" Assessment During the 1970's, psychologist Mary Ainsworth further expanded upon Bowlby's groundbreaking work in her now-famous "Strange Situation" study. The study involved observing children between the ages of 12 to 18 months responding to a situation in which they were briefly left alone and then reunited with their mother (Ainsworth, 1978). Based on these observations, Ainsworth concluded that there were three major styles of attachment: secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment, and avoidant-insecure attachment. Researchers Main and Solomon (1986) added a fourth attachment style known as disorganized-insecure attachment. Numerous studies have supported Ainsworth's conclusions and additional research has revealed that these early attachment styles can help predict behaviors later in life.

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Attachment Through Life
Before you start blaming relationship problems on your parents, it is important to note that attachment styles formed in infancy are not necessarily identical to those demonstrated in adult romantic-attachment. A great deal of time has elapsed between infancy and adulthood, so intervening experiences also play a large role in adult attachment styles. Those described as ambivalent or avoidant in infancy can become securely attached as adults, while those with a secure attachment in childhood can show insecure attachment styles in adulthood. Basic temperament is also thought to play a partial role in attachment.

But research in this area does indicate that patterns established in childhood have an important impact on later relationships. Researchers Hazen and Shaver (1987) found a number of different beliefs about relationships amongst adults with differing attachment styles. Securely attached adults tend to believe that romantic love is enduring. Ambivalently attached adults report falling in love often, while those with avoidant attachment styles describe love as rare and temporary.

While we cannot say that infant attachment styles are identical to adult romantic-attachment styles, research has shown that early attachment styles can help predict patterns of behavior in adulthood.


Secure Attachment

Characteristics of Secure Attachment
Children who are securely attached generally become visibly upset when their caregivers leave, and are happy when their parents return. When frightened, these children will seek comfort from the parent or caregiver. Contact initiated by a parent is readily accepted by securely attached children and they greet the return of a parent with positive behavior. While these children can be comforted to some extent by other people in the absence of a parent or caregiver, they clearly prefer parents to strangers.
Parents of securely attached children tend to play more with their children. Additionally, these parents react more quickly to their children's needs and are generally more responsive to their children than the parents of insecurely attached children. Studies have shown that securely attached children are more empathetic during later stages of childhood. These children are also described as less disruptive, less aggressive, and more mature than children with ambivalent or avoidant attachment styles.
As adults, those who are securely attached tend to have trusting, long-term relationships. Other key characteristics of securely attached individuals include having high self-esteem, enjoying intimate relationships, seeking out social support, and an ability to share feelings with other people.
In one study, researchers found that women with a secure attachment style had more positive feelings about their adult romantic relationships than other women with insecure attachment styles (Mccarthy G., 1999).


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Ambivalent Attachment
Characteristics of Ambivalent Attachment
Children who are ambivalently attached tend to be extremely suspicious of strangers. These children display considerable distress when separated from a parent or caregiver, but do not seem reassured or comforted by the return of the parent. In some cases, the child might passively reject the parent by refusing comfort, or may openly display direct aggression toward the parent.

According to Cassidy and Berlin (1994), ambivalent attachment is relatively uncommon, with only 7% to 15% of infants in the United States displaying this attachment style. In a review of ambivalent attachment literature, Cassidy and Berlin also found that observational research consistently links ambivalent-insecure attachment to low maternal availability. As these children grow older, teachers often describe them as clingy and over-dependent.

As adults, those with an ambivalent attachment style often feel reluctant about becoming close to others and worry that their partner does not reciprocate their feelings. This leads to frequent breakups, often because the relationship feels cold and distant. These individuals feel especially distraught after the end of a relationship. Cassidy and Berlin described another pathological pattern where ambivalently attached adults cling to young children as a source of security (1994).


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Avoidant Attachment
Characteristics of Avoidant Attachment
Children with avoidant attachment styles tend to avoid parents and caregivers. This avoidance often becomes especially pronounced after a period of absence. These children might not reject attention from a parent, but neither do they seek out comfort or contact. Children with an avoidant attachment show no preference between a parent and a complete stranger.

As adults, those with an avoidant attachment tend to have difficulty with intimacy and close relationships. These individuals do not invest much emotion in relationships and experience little distress when a relationship ends. They often avoid intimacy by using excuses (such as long work hours), or may fantasize about other people during sex. Research has also shown that adults with an avoidant attachment style are more accepting and likely to engage in casual sex (Feeney, J., Noller, and Patty 1993). Other common characteristics include a failure to support partners during stressful times and an inability to share feelings, thoughts, and emotions with partners.

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Disorganized Attachment
Characteristics of Disorganized Attachment
Children with a disorganized-insecure attachment style show a lack of clear attachment behavior. Their actions and responses to caregivers are often a mix of behaviors, including avoidance or resistance. These children are described as displaying dazed behavior, sometimes seeming either confused or apprehensive in the presence of a caregiver.

Main and Solomon (1986) proposed that inconsistent behavior on the part of parents might be a contributing factor in this style of attachment. In later research, Main and Hesse (1990) argued that parents who act as figures of both fear and reassurance to a child contribute to a disorganized attachment style. Because the child feels both comforted and frightened by the parent, confusion results.


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References
Ainsworth, M.; Blehar, M.; Waters, E.; and Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of Attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and Loss, Vol. 1: Attachment. New York: Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1979). The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds. London: Tavistock.

Bowlby, J. (1988). A Secure Base. New York: Basic Books.

Feeney, J. A.; Noller, P.; and Patty, J. (1993). "Adolescents' Interactions with the Opposite Sex: Influence of Attachment Style and Gender." Journal of Adolescence 16, 169–186.

Hazen, C. & Shaver, P. (1987) Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511-524.

Main, M., & Hesse, E. (1990). Parents' unresolved traumatic experiences are related to infant disorganized attachment status: Is frightened/frightening parental behavior the linking mechanism? In M. T. Greenberg, D. Cicchetti, & E. M. Cummings (Eds.), Attachment in the Preschool Years: Theory, Research, and Intervention, 161-182. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Main, M., & Solomon, J. (1986). Discovery of an insecure-disorganized/ disoriented attachment pattern: Procedures, findings and implications for the classification of behavior. In T. B. Brazelton & M. Yogman (Eds.), Affective Development in Infancy, 95-124. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Mccarthy, G. (1999) Attachment style and adult love relationships and friendships: A study of a group of women at risk of experiencing relationship difficulties. British Journal of Medical Psychology, Volume 72, Number 3, September 1999, pp. 305-321(17).


Attachment Task - Questions to Answer:
1 Think about your relationship with your parents, and how you respond to new situations. You don't have to tell the class, but write down for yourself the answers to these questions:
What type of attachment do you think that you have?
(If you want to use it, there is a quiz here which will tell you the answer. Where it says "partner" you can think about people that you feel close to, not necessarily a romantic partner.)

How has your attachment style affected you?

If you think that this has affected you negatively, what do you think that you could about these effects now?

If you wanted help with changing these effects, where would you go?

2 (a) Think about babies and toddlers that you have seen. What did you notice about their attachment? (Refer to Attachment Theory in your answer.) Write this down to hand in to the teacher.

(b) Can you think of other explanations for the behaviours of babies and toddlers that you observed? Write this down to hand in to the teacher.


Guidelines for Comments and Answers
Please remember that this is a school assignment, and use respectful language.