The Meeting of Psychoanalytic Theory

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Attachment Theory

Beginnings
Out of the meeting of psychoanalytic theory, World War II, and ethology was born what we now know as attachment theory. Because John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst was “uneasy about the reliability of our observations, the obscurity of any of our hypotheses and, above all, the absence of any tradition which demands that hypotheses be tested (1979, p. 36), he sought to bring greater scientific discipline into his field. Bowlby was already working with maladapted and delinquent children but his interest in this population was increased by wartime events involving separation of young children from familiar people such as the evacuation of children from London to keep them safe from air raids. Bowlby was further influenced by the work of ethologists like Harlow, Tinbergen, and Lorenz. Lorenz had already observed and described imprinting behavior among many animal species during critical time periods, thus showing that social bond formation need not be linked to feeding. Harlow’s work showed that separation had a profoundly negative effect on infant moneys’ psychological well-being. All this plus his growing interest in the link between maternal deprivation and later personality development eventually led Bowlby to formulate his tenets of attachment theory. His views were initially ignored or condemned by his peers, but ultimately became, “The dominant approach to understanding early social development, and has given rise to a great surge of empirical research into the formation of children’s close relationships” (Shaffer, 2007).

The Theory
Attachment theory believes that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. According to Bowlby, infants develop attachments to caregivers--primarily mothers--in order to ensure infant survival. Attachment is a special emotional relationship that involves an exchange of comfort, care, and pleasure. Bowlby describes it as, “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (1969, p. 194). He believed that, “the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.”

There are four key components of attachment. The child always has a safe haven to which he or she can return to for comfort and soothing. The caregiver provides a secure and dependable base for the child to explore the world. The child strives to stay near the caregiver, thus keeping the child safe; this is referred to as proximity maintenance. When separated from the caregiver, the child becomes distressed(Cherry).

Mary Ainsworth expanded on Bowlby’s work and created the “Strange Situation” experiments which documented a series of separations and reunions between mothers and their toddlers in a controlled setting. This allowed much empirical research to accumulate. Based on her observations and inferences about the quality of the attachment of the pairs, she concluded that there were three types of attachment relationships: secure, insecure-avoidance, and insecure-ambivalent, later researchers added the fourth type of disorganized-insecure (Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991). These experiments enabled the elusive quality of mother-child emotions to now be measured and demonstrated that infants were not passive recipients of oral gratification as Freud has believed; rather they actively sought contact with the caregiver and strongly protested when it was denied (Wylie & Turner).

There is substantial research
Some of the major strengths of Attachment theory are that it is robust, derived from scientific theories of human development and is generative of much research. Since the 1980s, attachment theory has spurred a tremendous amount of research in developmental psychology and its clinical and social policy implications have been recognized (Cox, 2006). Attachment theory also enjoys a...
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