Attachment theory. The deep relationships and connections between humans that supposedly originate from our childhood bonds with our parents. Everyone in the psychological world has heard of it, and many many people outside of that world are familiar with it – or have at least heard of it as well. Here is a chart to summarize attachment styles, parenting styles, and the resulting characteristics of the now adult’s attachment style:
Background: Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment
The theory of attachment was originally developed by John Bowlby (1907 – 1990), a British psychoanalyst who was attempting to understand the intense distress experienced by infants who had been separated from their parents. Bowlby observed that separated infants would go to extraordinary lengths (e.g., crying, clinging, frantically searching) to prevent separation from their parents or to reestablish proximity to a missing parent. At the time of Bowlby’s initial writings, psychoanalytic writers held that these expressions were manifestations of immature defense mechanisms that were operating to repress emotional pain, but Bowlby noted that such expressions are common to a wide variety of mammalian species, and speculated that these behaviors may serve an evolutionary function.
Drawing on ethological theory, Bowlby postulated that these attachment behaviors, such as crying and searching, were adaptive responses to separation from with a primary attachment figure–someone who provides support, protection, and care. Because human infants, like other mammalian infants, cannot feed or protect themselves, they are dependent upon the care and protection of “older and wiser” adults. Bowlby argued that, over the course of evolutionary history, infants who were able to maintain proximity to an attachment figure via attachment behaviors would be more likely to survive to a reproductive age. According to Bowlby, a motivational system, what he called theattachment behavioral system, was gradually “designed” by natural selection to regulate proximity to an attachment figure.
The attachment behavior system is an important concept in attachment theory because it provides the conceptual linkage between ethological models of human development and modern theories on emotion regulation and personality. According to Bowlby, the attachment system essentially “asks” the following fundamental question: Is the attachment figure nearby, accessible, and attentive? If the child perceives the answer to this question to be “yes,” he or she feels loved, secure, and confident, and, behaviorally, is likely to explore his or her environment, play with others, and be sociable. If, however, the child perceives the answer to this question to be “no,” the child experiences anxiety and, behaviorally, is likely to exhibit attachment behaviors ranging from simple visual searching on the low extreme to active following and vocal signaling on the other (see Figure 1). These behaviors continue until either the child is able to reestablish a desirable level of physical or psychological proximity to the attachment figure, or until the child “wears down,” as may happen in the context of a prolonged separation or loss. In such cases, Bowlby believed that young children experienced profound despair and depression.