Has Attachment Theory Had Its Day?

Topics: Attachment theory, Mary Ainsworth, John Bowlby Pages: 8 (2385 words) Published: May 19, 2013
Has attachment theory had its day?

There are many different views on attachment theory but the first and most recognised is that of John Bowlby. He argued that attachment was an instinctive biological need that begins at infancy and continues throughout life. (Elliot & Reis, 2003). Further to this Bowlby argued that babies who were separated from their mothers before becoming securely attached would find it impossible to bond with others and in later life would suffer ill affects from this deprivation (Woolfolk, Hughes & Walkup, 2008). He explained that each infant has a critical period in which they must form an attachment, and after this period, of about two or three years, the child will no longer be able to form any attachment. Bowlby has been very influential in this area. His maternal deprivation hypothesis stated that long-term intellectual, social and emotional damage follows the deprivation of an attachment during a critical period in the child's development. (Rutter, 1972) Bowlby’s theory is wide-ranging and provided a basis of research into the nature of early relationships, and so established a good foundation for Mary Ainsworth’s attachment theory. Ainsworth took her theory a step further with the Strange Situation, which splits attachment into three types; secure avoidant and resistant (Ainsworth, 1964). Ainsworth’s Strange Situation involved providing an unfamiliar but interesting environment where the child was motivated to explore but needed to feel secure. An observer then recorded the child’s responses to the departure and later return of the mother (Woolfolk et al, 2008).The research showed significant differences in the child’s reactions and so led Ainsworth to develop the three types of attachment. The secure type is when an infant seeks protection or comfort from their mother and receives care consistently; the mother is usually rated as loving and affectionate. The avoidant type is when the infant tends to pull away from their mother or ignores her; the mother is usually rated as rejecting of the child's attachment behaviour. The resistant type is when the infant tends to stay close to their mother; the mother is usually rated as being inconsistent in their care (Fraley & Spieker, 2003). Whilst the Strange Situation has turned out in past research to be a reliable and useful measure of the mother-infant relationship as well as a predictor of later behaviour problems in home-reared children (Ainsworth et al 1978) the research has suffered criticisms. “The validity of the Strange Situation procedure depends on creating a situation in which infants feel moderately stressed and therefore display proximity-seeking behaviour to the object of their attachment. However the Strange Situation may not be equally stressful for the infants of working and non-working mothers” (Clarke-Stewart, 1989, p. 270) According to recent government figures 66.5% of mothers are currently in work, and with a gap between them and working women without dependents at just 0.8% (Working women without dependents is currently 67.3%) it is the lowest it has been since records began 15 years ago (Office for National Statistics, 2011). The dramatic increase in recent years on the number of working mothers would beg the question is the Strange Situation still valid? Tiffany Field also depicts limitations with the Strange Situation; she explains “model attachment is based on behaviours that occur during momentary separations (stressful situations) rather than during nonstressful situations. A broader understanding of attachment requires observation of how the mother and infant interact and what they provide for each other during natural nonstressful situations” (Field, 1996, p. 543). Therefore suggesting the behaviours directed towards the attachment figure during departing and reunion times cannot be the only factors used when defining attachment. Another theory of attachment; or lack of it, is Bowlby’s Maternal...
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