Attachment

You have probably observed how babies interact with their mothers. Maybe you once were given a baby to hold in your arms and the baby instantly started crying. It is well known that babies are usually best comforted by their parents rather than strangers. This is exactly what the field of attachment in psychology studies. Let's learn about it.

Attachment Attachment

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Contents
Table of contents
    • The explanation starts by reviewing the characteristics of attachment in psychology.
    • Then, the attachment disorder is explained.
    • Moving on from this, the explanation reviews the types of attachments.
    • Last, the theory of attachment is presented.

    Characteristics of Attachment in Psychology

    Attachment is a topic within the field of developmental psychology.

    Developmental psychology is a branch of psychology that studies a person's growth and changes during their lifetime. The study examines behaviours, feelings and thought processes intending to understand how and why they develop over time.

    Much of our development occurs during the early stages of our lives; due to this, the focus of developmental psychology is often on childhood and adolescence. An important aspect of such life stages is studying attachment behaviour.

    Attachment refers to the emotional bond felt towards another person. The bond provides feelings of security and closeness. In infant-parent relationships, attachment is a two-way emotional bond in which both people are contributors. Reciprocal interactions strengthen the attachment between an infant and its parent.

    The term reciprocal is key to this definition. Reciprocity refers to the idea that both infant and carer respond to one another in a meaningful way and benefit from such a relationship.

    Psychologist John Bowlby (1969) defined attachment as a:

    Lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.

    In line with the definition of attachment, research has identified that infants can develop attachments to different figures such as parents and primary carers.

    Attachment Theory

    After years of exploring and researching attachment, psychologists have established solid knowledge of how attachment is developed and occurs.

    Lorenz (1935) came up with the Imprinting Theory which is still used today. Lorenz conducted an animal study with geese. He divided the eggs before they would hatch. The first thing that half of the newborn geese saw was Lorenz, while the other half saw their mother geese. After some time, Lorenz put all the chicks together and tested whether they would follow the mother geese or not. The results indicated that the chicks would divide themselves based on what they had seen after being born.

    Based on this study, Lorenz (1935) developed the imprinting theory according to which geese have a 12-17h critical period after hatching for the development of emotional bonds. Geese will always follow the person or animal that they have been exposed to during such period. The process of developing such bonds in animals is called imprinting.

    Basic Psycholgoy, Attachment, Picture of geese chicks with the chick mother, StudySmarterFig. 1. Geese chicks with the goose mother.

    The imprinting theory suggested that attachment occurs naturally before biological development and genetics play a role in it.

    Lorenz's study has been criticised for not being fully applicable to human attachment.

    Other animal studies have greatly contributed to our understanding of attachment. Harlow (1958) investigated attachment and bonding in rhesus monkeys. In the study, Harlow (1958) had 16 monkeys who were not reared by their biological mother. These monkeys were isolated from the other monkeys and placed with a monkey puppet made up of cloth.

    During the time experimental phase the baby monkeys sought comfort from the cloth monkey when they were scared, and would cuddle it. Later in their development when the monkeys became adults, they presented different abnormalities sich as aggressive tendencies to other monkeys, problems mating, and inability to successfully bond with their own offspring.

    From this study, Harlow concluded that maternal deprivation at a young age has lifelong consequences.

    Deprivation is the psychological term used to refer to the removal or unavailability of something that is needed.

    This study's ethics were questioned due to the suffering that monkeys went through both in the separation phase and also later in adulthood.

    Attachment disorder

    As we learned from Harlow (1958) study, the lack of attachment can lead to difficulties in later life. Exploring this further, psychologists have identified a range of disorders that emerge from poor attachment styles.

    The term attachment disorder is a broad name for a group of mood, behaviour and social disorders that seem to originate in childhood, due to poor attachment styles.

    In 1998, Rutter studied longitudinally Rumanian children that had grown up in orphans. The children that took part in the study were adopted by British families before they were either 6 months old, 2 years old or 4 years old.

    Attachment styles

    Bowlby was a developmental psychologist who defined the different types of attachment styles. He understood attachment as a biological process that all infants went through. Bowlby defined three main types of attachment: secure, insecure-avoidant and insecure-resistant attachments.

    Before we review each attachment style, we will introduce the procedure that Bowlby used to research attachment. The strange situation was developed by Mary Ainswoth in the 1970s. The procedure involves the exploration of children's reactions when a stranger to the child and their main carer is either present or absent from a room.

    Secure attachment is defined by the presence of a warm and loving bond between the caregiver and the child. Children that present a secure attachment can relate to other individuals in a successful way and can do so throughout their lives. Further, securely attached children to not show fear to being abandoned.

    Insecure-Avoidant attachment is characterised by children's little interest in their carer's presence. When the carer is not present the children are not concerned, and these children do not show an emotional reaction when reunited with their carer. Generally, these children do not show any interest or motivation to interact with strangers or known adults. It has been hypothesised that this type of attachment takes place when the emotional needs of the child are not met by the carer.

    Insecure-resistant or ambivalent attachment is thought to occur when the needs of the child are sometimes met, but sometimes not. This is when the carer shows inconsistent behaviour towards the child, the attachment developed is insecure-resistant. This type of attachment is manifested in children's behaviour by the children not being explorative in new situations. These children show dependent behaviour towards their carer and are distressed in the absence of the carer. Children with this type of attachment cannot be comforted by strangers and treat strangers very differently from the carer. When these children are reunited with their carer they are pleased and comforted. They may, however, show signs of anger towards the mother.

    Attachment Theory

    The theories that have been developed for attachment vary based on the exact characteristic they investigated. Here is an overview of the different topics. However, you can find a separate explanation covering solely attachment theories.

    Explanations of attachment

    This subtopic is about explanations of attachment. We will study several explanations of attachment, including the Learning Theory, Bowlby's Monotropic Theory (1969) and the types of attachment found in Ainsworth's ‘Strange Situation’ procedure.

    Cultural variations in attachment

    This subtopic is about the cultural variations in attachment. One of the most important studies in this topic was conducted by Iyendoorn and Kroonenber in 1988. With the aim of establishing how attachment is shaped by cultures, they investigated the types of attachment across cultures. They tested whether the secure, insecure-resistant and insecure-avoidant were observable in other cultures as well.

    To investigate this, they carried out a meta-analysis in which they reviewed already existing data and results. All studies included had used the strange situation and had been performed with mother and children, not with fathers or other carers.

    Their results indicated that the types of attachment were present in the counties under investigation (Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, Israel, United States and China). This, in turn, suggested that attachment is a human innate characteristic.

    Deprivation, privation and separation

    This subtopic is about deprivation, privation and separation. We will study Bowlby's theory of maternal deprivation to learn about the effects of deprivation on attachment

    .

    Institutionalisation and deprivation: Romanian orphan studies

    This topic is about the effects of institutionalization and deprivation on attachment. We will look at the Romanian orphan studies in detail to understand more about the effects.

    Attachment and later relationships

    This subtopic is about attachment and later relationships in a person's life. We will be studying the ‘romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process’ research by Hazan & Shaver (1987).


    Attachment - Key takeaways

    • Attachment refers to the emotional bond felt towards another person, and this is researched by developmental psychology, which looks into how people grow and change over time.
    • Lorenz (1935) was a pioneer researcher in attachment and proposed the Imprinting Theory.

    • The three attachment styles are secure, insecure-avoidant and insecure-resistant attachments.

    • The types of attachment have been shown to be present in different cultures, thus suggesting they are strongly shaped by nature, rather

    Frequently Asked Questions about Attachment

    What is attachment?

    Attachment refers to the emotional bond felt towards another person, and this is researched by developmental psychology, which looks into how people grow and change over time. 

    What is my attachment style?

    In order to establish someone's attachment style a psychological evaluation of an infant-carer interaction needs to be conducted.

    What is attachment disorder?

    The term attachment disorder is a broad name for a group of mood, behaviour and social disorders that seem to originate in childhood, due to poor attachment styles.

    Why is attachment important in psychology?

    Attachment is important in psychology because it has been show to be innate, present in animals, humans and across cultures.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    When was the maternal deprivation theory proposed?

    Who proposed the maternal deprivation theory?

    What are the three levels of distress in the PDD Model?

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    Team Attachment Teachers

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