John Bowlby (1907 - 1990) was a psychoanalyst (like Freud) and believed that mental health and behavioral problems could be attributed to early childhood. Bowlby’s evolutionary theory of attachment suggests that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, because this will help them to survive. Bowlby was very much influenced by ethological theory in general, but especially by Lorenz’s (1935) study of imprinting. Lorenz showed that attachment was innate (in young ducklings) and therefore has a survival value. Bowlby believed that attachment behaviors are instinctive and will be activated by any conditions that seem to threaten the achievement of proximity, such as separation, insecurity and fear.
Bowlby (1969, 1988) also postulated that the fear of strangers represents an important survival mechanism, built in by nature. Babies are born with the tendency to display certain innate behaviors (called social releasers) which help ensure proximity and contact with the mother or mother figure (e.g. crying, smiling, crawling, etc.) – these are species-specific behaviors. During the evolution of the human species, it would have been the babies who stayed close to their mothers who would have survived to have children of their own and Bowlby hypothesized that both infants and mothers have evolved a biological need to stay in contact with each other. These attachment behaviors initially function like fixed action patterns and all share the same function. The infant produces innate ‘social releaser’ behaviors such as crying and smiling that stimulate caregiving from adults. The determinant of attachment is not food but care and responsiveness. Bowlby suggested that a child would initially form only one attachment and that the attachment figure acted as a secure base for exploring the world. The attachment relationship acts as a prototype for all future social relationships so disrupting it can have severe consequences. Main Points of Bowlby’s Theory
Although Bowlby did not rule out the possibility of other attachment figures for a child, he did believe that there should be a primary bond which was much more important than any other (usually the mother). Bowlby believes that this attachment is different in kind (qualitatively different) from any subsequent attachments. Bowlby argues that the relationship with the mother is somehow different altogether from other relationships. Essentially, Bowlby suggested that the nature of monotropy (attachment conceptualized as being a vital and close bond with just one attachment figure) meant that a failure to initiate, or a breakdown of, the maternal attachment would lead to serious negative consequences, possibly including affectionless psychopathy. Bowlby’s theory of monotropy led to the formulation of his maternal deprivation hypothesis. The child behaves in ways that elicits contact or proximity to the caregiver. When a child experiences heightened arousal, he/she signals their caregiver. Crying, smiling, and, locomotion, are examples of these signaling behaviors. Instinctively, caregivers respond to their children’s behavior creating a reciprocal pattern of interaction. 2. A child should receive the continuous care of this single most important attachment figure for approximately the first two years of life. Bowlby (1951) claimed that mothering is almost useless if delayed until after two and a half to three years and, for most children, if delayed till after 12 months, i.e. there is a critical period. If the attachment figure is broken or disrupted during the critical two year period the child will suffer irreversible long-term consequences of this maternal deprivation. This risks continues until the age of 5. Bowlby used the term maternal deprivation to refer to the separation or loss of the mother as well as failure to develop an attachment. The underlying assumption of Bowlby’s Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis is that continual...
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