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Attachment Theory

Definition of Attachment
An enduring emotional tie to a special
person, characterized by a tendency
to seek and maintain closeness,
especially during times of stress.
• Necessary for newborn survival
• Aids normal human development
• Normally an attachment to mother
Importance of Attachment
• Implications for infant's sense of
• Freud, Erikson, Behaviorists described
its impact on development
Bowlby’s Four Stages of
Preattachment phase
• Birth - 6 weeks
• Baby’s innate signals attract caregiver
• Caregivers remain close by when the
baby responds positively
Attachment in the
• 6 wks to 6-8 months
• Develops a sense of trust that caregiver will
respond when signaled
• Infants respond more positively to familiar
• Babies don't protest when separated from
Clear-cut Attachment
• 6-8 months to 18-24 months
• Babies display separation anxiety
• Babies protest when parent leaves
Formation of Reciprocal
• 18 mo - 2yrs
• Toddlers increase their understanding of
symbols and language improves
• Toddlers understand that parents will
Factors which Affect Attachment
• Opportunity for attachment
• Quality of caregiving
• respond promptly and consistently
• interactional synchrony – the sensitively
tuned “emotional dance”
• Infant characteristics
• infant's temperament, special needs,
prematurity, or illnesses
More Factors which Affect Attachment
• Family circumstances
• Stress can undermine attachment
• Parents’ internal working models
• Parents’ own attachment experiences
• Parents’ ability to accept their past
Measuring the Quality of
• Mary Ainsworth researched
• Designed the “strange situation”
• A lab experiment with 8 different episodes
of separation and reunion
• Attached infant will:
• Use mother as a secure base
• Be soothed by the mother during the
Secure attachment
• Uses caregiver as a secure base
• May show distress at separation, but the
baby can be soothed at reunion
• 60-65% of North American children
Insecure-Avoidant Attachment
• Unresponsive to parent when she is
• Not distressed by parting
• Avoids or slow to greet parent on
• 20% of North American children
Insecure-Resistant Attachment
• Infants remain close to parents and
not eager to explore
• Distressed by separation
• During reunion, infants are both
clingy and resistant
• 12% of North American children
• No coherent strategy for handling
separations or reunions
• Baby looks dazed and confused
• 5-10% of North American children
Attachment Theory
Attachment refers to a very close and
affectionate bond between an infant and a
The bond us usually formed with the
mother, however, it can be just as strong
with a highly involved father.
In World War II, orphaned babies in hospitals turned their heads to the
Failure to thrive involves babies not
wall and died in spite of being fed and changed. When nurse held the
– they did much
better, gained
reacheddue to
or weight
developmental milestones.
a lack of attachment.
• Mary Ainsworth
• Harry Harlow
• John Bowlby
Harry Harlow
Food or Security? Harlow's study on monkeys' attachment
• In 1966, Harlow provided baby rhesus
monkeys with two mother options: one wireframed with a bottle, the other with a
comfortable cloth surrounding its wire frame.
• The babies went to the bottle only for feeding
and would choose to spend the majority of
their time (several hours) with the
“comforting” mother.
John Bowlby
During the 1960s and 1970s:
-Bowlby established connections between infant behavior
and the behaviors of parents.
-Smiling and clinging are examples of baby behavior that
resulted in adult soothing and comforting.
-Bowlby also noted stages of separation behavior
demonstrated by infants/children (8 months to 3 years
1. Protest- crying and searching
2. Despair- child becomes quiet
3. Detachment- child withdraws as though cut-off from
• When children have gone through
separation, they may revert back to
earlier stages of attachment.
e.g. bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, or
wanting a bottle. (may make them
feel more comfortable, by reminding
them of a time when they felt more
Mary Ainsworth
-infants require a “secure base” from which to begin their
exploration of the world.
-children had varying responses when a parent returned
after being away.
1) Secure Infants: were comfortable with parents
and sometimes sought contact.
2) Anxious Avoidant Infants: turned away and
avoided their parents’ touch.
3) Anxious Ambivalent Infants: showed resistance
or anger when their parents returned.
The Strange Situation- Mary Ainsworth
Trust and Attachment
• The best way for parents to foster attachment is
to create a sense of trust with their children, by
responding to their needs.
• Needs are typically voiced in the form of a cry.
When a newborn cries and a care-giver
responds, the baby learns that the world is a
safe, loving place. This is essential for lifelong
social and emotional development.
• Lesson: Always respond to a baby when it cries,
because this will teach it to communicate well
later in life.
Importance of Attachment
• Proper development
• Sleeping and eating disorders less
• Emotions handled better
• Close attachment = less likely to
experience abuse
• Set template for other relationships
• Promotes good mental health
What is your type?
A. I find it relatively easy to get close to
other people. I am comfortable
depending on other people and having
them depend on me. I don’t usually
worry about being abandoned or about
having someone get too close to me.
What is your type?
B. I find it difficult to trust people
completely. I am somewhat
uncomfortable being close to others. I
feel nervous when people start to get too
close. Often, I feel like people want me to
be more intimate than I feel comfortable
being. I find it difficult to allow myself to
depend on other people.
What is your type?
C. I find that other people are reluctant to
get as close as I would like. I often worry
that someone I am close to doesn’t really
love me or won’t want to stay with me. I
want to merge completely with another
person, but this sometimes scares people
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