Attachment Theory Analysis Development And Application Psychology Essay

This paper focuses on the concept of attachment theory. We begin with an analysis of what it is and its development and the founders and important people who have applied and developed it. We then present its applications in the modern psychology.

Attachment can be defined as the emotional bond that connects one person with another. This theory was first advanced by psychologist John Bowl by and he described it as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby, 1969). He believed that the initial bond that is formed by children with their parent or caregivers have very important impact upon their entire lives. According to him, the attachment is very fundamental in ensuring that the child’s chances of survival are enhanced.

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The main theme in the theory of attachment revolves around the notion that mothers who are responsive and available to the needs of their children usually establish some sense of security. The infant are therefore ware of the fact that such a bond with a dependable parent or caregiver is important for their security and safety. This gives them a well secured platform to explore the world at large.

The main characteristics of attachment

Secure base

This is when the caregiver or parent provides a dependable and secure base for the child to explore the world.

Safe haven

This is exhibited when the child feels afraid and threatened. They do therefore turn back to their caregiver to seek comfort

Maintenance of proximity

This is exhibited when the child makes efforts to be as close to the caregiver or parent as much as possible in order to keep themselves safe.

Distress of separation

The Ainsworth’s theory of “Strange Situation”

Mary Ainsworth, a psychologist in 1970’s carried out research that expounded immensely on the work of Bowlby’s. Her famous theory of “Strange Situation” revealed that there is a notable effects of attachment on the human behavior. The study which she conducted entailed an observation of children aged between 12 and 18 months who were being watched as they responded to various situations in which they were left alone for a short period of time. The infants were then reunited with their mothers as pointed out by (Ainsworth, 1978).

On the basis of the observed responses, Ainsworth came up with three main styles of attachment which were:

Secure attachment

Ambivalent-insecure attachment

Avoidant-insecure attachment

However, later on, the work of Main and Solomon (1986) saw the addition of an extra style of attachment referred to as disorganized-insecure attachment. Several other studies have shown that the various attachment styles have a profound influence on the behavior of humans in their later lives.

Detailed characteristics of attachments

Secure attachment

Children who are securely attached do exhibit a lot of distress when they get separated from their caregivers. They do however become happy on the return of their caregiver. It is worth pointing out the fact that these children do feel secure and are able to depend entirely on their parents ar caregivers. Whenever the caregiver or parent leaves, they may feel upset but with the knowledge and hope that their caregiver would soon come back.

In case they get frightened by anything, these securely attached children would seek the comfort and protection of their caregivers. They know their parents and caregivers and their ability to provide them with assurance and comfort.

Ambivalent attachment

The ambivalently attached children normally do become distressed whenever their caregivers leave them. This form of attachment is usually uncommon and is therefore observable in just a small percentage of American children. It has been shown through research that ambivalent children are a product of poor maternal availability. These children however, cannot rely on their parents’ availability for their needs to be met.

Avoidant attachment

This form of attachment is characterized with children who try at all costs to avoid their parents or primary caregivers. In case they get offered a chance, they would show no form of preference between their caregivers and new people who are considered total strangers. Research work has indicated that this form of attachment comes about as a result of a neglectful or abusive caregiver. This therefore means that children who get penalized or punished fpor their reliance on their caregivers would soon learn to avoid seeking their help in the future.

The problems with attachment

There are a myriad of problems that affects attachments. The questions that most people may ask are what happens to infant who do not form some form of secure attachment. Extant literature suggests that in case there is a failure to be part of a secure attachment during infancy, then there is bound to be negative impact on the behavior of the affected individual. This is notable in the early childhood as well as during adulthood.

The children who are diagnosed with oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or conduct disorder (CD) usually show signs of attachment related problems. This is possibly as a result of :

Early abuse

Neglect and


It has been suggested by clinicians that early attachments do have very serious effects on the future relationships .For example, people who are securely attached during their childhood do tend to have positive qualities such as:

Good self esteem

Strong romantic relationships

Ability to disclose oneself to other people.

It has been suggested by several theorists that the attachment theory is a special kind of psychological theory that gives a description as well as explanation to be used as a theoretical framework necessary for discussing the various types of affectionate relationships that do exist between individuals.

This theory which got its origin from John Bowlby in 1969 has continued to be influential as a logical framework to be utilized in the explanation of interpersonal relationships as pointed out by (Hazan, & Shaver, 1987).

Bowlby’s theory was heavily influenced by the work of Harry Harlow. Harlow is the one who made a discovery that infant monkeys that got separated from their caregivers (mothers) ended up clinging to objects that were as fluffy as their mothers as opposed to the wire-coated food sispensers.This was a strong indication that the infants had a strong need to be nurtured as poited out by Harlow & Suomi (1970).It was the belief of Bowlby that the attachment style of an individual is developed in their childhood and gets heavy influence by the infant’s relationship with the primary caregiver. His other belief was that an individual’ style of attachment is durable and has a strong influence on the way the person would relate to others through our their life time (Bowlby, 1969).There are however some theorist who challenge this notion.

Secure attachment style

This is the very first attachment style. Individuals who are securely attached have very low self esteem coupled with low avoidance. They however have positive attitudes towards themselves and towards the rest of the people. In order to promote secure attachment in children, it is important for the primary caregivers to be dependable, supportive and provide a safe haven as pointed out by Bartholomew & Horowitz (1991).

Ainsworth’s strange situation study revealed that securely attached children are characterized by several behaviors such as protestation of their caregiver’s departure while having the ability to begin being in happy mood only to welcome the departed caregiver and be reassured once again of their comfort as outlined by Tracy & Ainsworth (1981).

There are other benefits that come with being securely attached. These include the ability to form very close and intimate relationships with very little ease while being comfortable with the autonomy. Secure adults usually feel like they are worthless and have expectations that other persons will be accepting while being responsive at the same time as outlined by (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).

The diminishing attachment style

This form of attachment is characterized by individuals who have low anxiety coupled with a rather high avoidance. Therefore, they do have a positive attitude towards their existence. They however do have a high avoidance of others. This form of attachment is observable in children and is formed whenever an infant’s bid to gain comfort are rejected and their primary care givers are hesitant and generally reluctant to allow body contact between them. This makes them to pick up their young ones in very abrupt manner. There is also an element of controlling behavior with very limited emotional response as indicated by (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).

An observation by Ainsworth shown that children who are dismissing had a characteristic of not being distressed by the departure of their caregivers and they were also not too much bothered by their return. This observation was reported by (Tracy & Ainsworth, 1981).

In adults

It is also a general fact that adults who belong to the category of the dismissing individuals do feel a certain sense of worthiness. They however possess a very negative disposition towards other individuals. They do have a self protection mechanism that involves the avoidance of very close relationships and the maintenance of a general sense of independence coupled with invulnerability.

The preoccupied (Fearful avoidant attachment styles)

This third attachment style is referred to as the preoccupied style. These persons do experience a very high level of anxiety coupled with low avoidance. Therefore they get preoccupied and do feel on a constant basis, a sense of unlovabililty along with that of unworthiness that is combined with an affirmative evaluation of others. The preoccupied style is usually formed whenever a primary care giver is inconsistent in their manner of parenting. This is marked with being loving while being responsive. This is however true only when they are able to manage but not in their response to the child’s signals as pointed out by Cassidy (2000).

In adults

Several adults have been shown to be exhibiting this style and they are known to be in a constant quest to be accepted by others through the gaining of acceptance of other individuals in the community.

Fearful avoidant style

This is the last type of avoidance styles It comprises of highly negative individuals.They do have:

High anxiety

High avoidance

They also feel the following:



They view people negatively and regard them as either rejecting or untrustworthy.

Due to this, they usually avoid very close relationship and try to avoid being rejected at all costs. This group is made up of individuals who have been abused and neglected as pointed out by (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991).

The durability of the attachment styles

The durability in this case refers to the state of stability of the attachment styles. This has however been a subject of too much controversy and debate. The attachment theory postulates that after repeated experiences during an individual’s childhood, they do while in infancy, develop a string of knowledge structures a concept that can also be referred to as an inner working model that acts as a representative of the various several interactions that the infant had while they were with their primary care giver.

The infant then learns of the fact that whenever their primary caregivers get responsive then they have an opportunity of counting on them as well as others should need be. On the other hand, in case the primary care givers are cold, unresponsive and inconsistent, then the child would soon learn to ignore or rather neglect their role in his or her life in regards to gaining comfort.


This model has for a long time been thought of as being persistent throughout the life of an individual and can be considered to act for them as some sort of a guide as illustrated by Fraley, (2002).

In order to support this model, we bring out the fact that adults generally do tend to be more attentive to situations that bring out their experiences and to information that is in congruence with their worldly expectations. This is called the “confirmation bias”

In order to illustrate this, we look at the study that was conducted by Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan in 1992 that portrayed that people who have avoidant working models with a general view of others as being unreliable did also vies social scenarios as being ambiguous.

A study conducted by Roisman, Collins, Sroufe, & Egeland (2005) in order to explore if an infant’s style of attachment could be predictive of their adult hood indicated that:

A secure mind state in regard to one;s romantic relationship and better of (high quality) romantic relationship is usually a result of a secured attachment relationship that took place in infancy.

In yet another study by Torgersen, Grova, & Sommerstand, (2007) whose research relied on the test results of hypothesis that purported that attachment in most adults is heavily influenced by certain genetic factors. This was done through a comparison of both monozygotic as well as dizygotic twins attachment styles.

Their result is was that both the environment and the genes have a profound influence on attachment

Recent theories

Several recent theories dispute this notion. They do propose however that the durability of a certain style is a functions of the stability of an individual’s environment.

This can be illustrated with a consideration of the experiences of new relationships and formation of new attachments both of which can bring about positive influence on an individual’s working model.

It is worth noting that the attachment theory is very crucial in the explanation of an individual’s interpersonal relationship in a lifetime. The four proposed attachments styles:



Dismissing and

Fearful avoidant

Are all crucial in the explanation of an individual’s interpersonal relationship. It is important to note that the durability of attachment has been questioned and more research is going on this.

Applications to social phenomena

Attachment theory in raising children

Attachment is the link that forms between the person taking care of an infant and the infant itself from when it is between eight to nine months of age, giving the child security emotionally. Bonding starts from when a child is being given food, and goes on to participating in pseudo-dialogue and then it is followed by the child taking part in more active roles of proto dialogue, as shown by Kaye (1982), other ideas such as inter-subjectivity and scaffolding have been looked into by psychologists. As an infant continues growing, their attention towards the person taking care of them increases.

John Bowlby (1958, 1980) founder of the attachment theory was involved in extensive analysis on the emotional link between infants and adults and he had a strong belief that the early relationships greatly determined the emotional and behavioral growth of a child. An earlier study done by Bowlby in 1944 found out that children who had an unstable upbringing where more likely to become juvenile derelicts. His work is often free to criticism and has been improved on with further research. Other following research has measured different levels of security and insecurity in children from early times by use of the method known as Strange Situation Test. Other explorations have also shown different types of the difficult habits and how a child may relate with the person taking care of them actively.

Bowlby’s theory was founded on ideas from ethology studies and earlier works. The psychodynamic theory as put by Sigmund Freund was very pertinent during the 50’s following the Second World War when women were taking up caring for households and playing motherhood roles as men were going back to employment post war. Sigmund believed that every child ought to have a relationship with one caregiver ‘monotropism’ and that separating from this person would bring about the ‘proximity promoting behaviors’ in the attachment order. The caregiver coming would cause the behaviors of, clinging, making noise and crying to come to an end. The protected grounds of the affectionate links present between the parent and infant representation becomes part and parcel of the inner working model. These therefore become the heart and the base of all close relationship during continuation of the child’s life all through to adulthood. The interference of a mother and child’s relationship through lack of emotion, separation and bereavement to the bonding process.

Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation (1951, 1953) was supported by Konrad Lorenz imprinting study on the young ones of animals done in 1966. He believed that the child’s caregiver should impress as a constant figure, and that lack of maternal links between mother and child could be dangerous to the child’s health mentally and could cause delinquency. His opinions on long term organizational care were that if a child was placed in a foster home before reaching two years and six months social, emotional and cognitive development may not be delayed but his other works show there has been varying types of parting in youth with serious behavioral issues. Attachment behavior as looked into by Mary Ainsworth works (1985) Ainsworth & Bell, (1974) Ainsworth et al (1978) becomes the base for all potential connections and this develops up to two years from the time the child is born. She also agreed with Bowlby on the opinion that the process of attachment bonding occurs at the age of two years. Roughly when the infant is about 7 months old when they get to be watchful of strangers and unknown environments. This continues until the child attains two years of age. The process Ainsworth (1969) investigated to determine if a child was securely or insecurely connected was the ‘strange situation paradigm’. This involved a series of short separations and reunions. The child’s parent and a person unknown to the child took part in the study with a child aged one year, there were eight series in total and Ainsworth’s measurement on secure and insecure connection was founded on the reunion scene of how the child reacted in such a situation. Evaluation was carried out using four different variables. The results showed that there were three main varying styles of adjusting. Type A was the anxious and avoidant. The Type B secure while the Type C was the anxious and ambivalent. Most children showed secure attachment; one fifth of them showed anxious/avoidant and one tenth showed anxious/ambivalent. Main and Solomon (1990) introduced yet another variable, D Type: which in recent times was disorganized to match the behaviors of children in risky environments. The ‘strange situation paradigm’, has been faulted by Judy Dunn (1982, 1983), she believed that children from varying backgrounds like institutional care and those living with their families may bring different meanings to the test and the child’s environment. The method and results of the experiment are doubted even by Judy Dunn herself. In another study carried out by Richman in 1982 et al it showed that different dangerous factors of disturbed behavior can be evident from the time a child is three years old. Some of the factors known to influence a child’s emotional development are the mother’s mental state, marital stability and the parents’ attitudes to the child. The child’s active part must also be taken into consideration when giving advice on bringing up children as is shown in Sameroff’s 1991 transactional model, as children interact with their environments, while the caregiver develops the child’s behavior and how they will relate in future.

In Ainsworth and Bowlby’s view in which they both agree relationships are universal it can said that different peoples and cultures have different degrees on to what degree or amount of time an infant should be left alone, Japanese, the Chinese and the Israeli results showed Type C in a research done across cultures by one Marinus van Ijzendoorn and Peter Kroonenberg in 1988. Problems could also be with the ethological view of drawing comparisons between children and the young ones of animals as they could be controlled by an instinct. Bowlby considered only the effect on the child by the caregiver yet other factors could affect this such as the child moods. A mother whose child has a thorny mood could prefer to work and leave their child in a day facility which in turn could have a negative effect on the mother being unable to leave the child behind with other people. The mothers’ patience and the look of the goodness of fit. Researchers Chess and Thomas (1984) suggested that attachment could impact on the behavior and a reflection on the attachment link between the child and the primary caregiver (mother). Bowbly and Ainsworth worked together in the development of secure links as per the sensitive mothering of a child in its first year but it could have an impact on the mother as argued by Woollet and Pheonix in 1991, where if she has to abandon all her earlier work and duties possibly leading to frustrations. A workable alternative is to share the responsibility of parenting but this notion would appear to be contrast to the opinion of Ainsworth and Bowlby.

The showing of the movie ‘A Two-Year-Old Goes to Hospital’, by James Robertson in 1952 showed the stress and pains of a child separated from the mother during a long stay in hospital. During this period mothers were advised not to pay regular visits to their children while in hospital. According to Ainsworth and Bowlby ,the abrupt and premature separation of the child could have terribly affected its emotional wellbeing and the bonding process. Separation and providing alternative means for taking care of the child have been researched on more recently. Day care was among the topics researched into by Bowlby and his belief was that that if a child started nursery schooling before attaining three years of age, it would also cause irreparable damage to the child. However, recent studies done during the 70’s and 80’s have shown varying opinions and this was proved in a research carried out by Laurence Steinberg and Jan Belsky in 1978 and in yet another study done by Clarke-Stewart and Fein (1983). A much later study done by Belsky (1988), had different views as mothers who worked for more than 20 hours a week showed a higher level of insecure attachment as compared to his earlier study which found absolutely no problems with taking children for day care, Clarke-Stewart opposed this data. Other crucial factors that needed to be taken into consideration according to Belsky were the difference in the surroundings, the children in the day care facility, the staff at the day care and the quality of the day care.

Appendix A:

Figure 1: Attachment models source (

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