‘Attachment Behaviour Characterises Human Beings from the Cradle to the Grave' (Bowlby 1979 P 129)

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It is popular belief that the childhood years prepare us for adulthood. What children learn from early relationships has a powerful bearing on how they interact with others in adulthood. For the purpose of this essay we will expand on this belief system focusing on how attachment behaviours learnt as an infant influence our adult romantic relationships. Attachment and related concepts will be discussed in terms of their social and emotional implications for adult romantic relationships.

Attachment behaviour refers to the goal orientated and responsive behaviour towards an attachment figure. Attachment is a strong emotional bond that develops over time; it is dependent on the type of interaction between individuals and is traditionally viewed as the reciprocal tie between a mother and her infant. John Bowlby was the pioneer behind much of attachment theory; he viewed attachment as ‘the propensity of human beings to make affection bonds to particular others' (1979 p127). Bowlby argued that the formation of attachment is evolutionary adaptive and biologically rooted. In that infants are helpless, they require a stronger, wiser individual to help them to survive. The infant is programmed to illicit ‘social releasers' such as crying, cooing, eye-contact and smiling, for which adults are also programmed to respond to, these advantageous behaviours from the infant help to promote its survival.

The first few years of life are held as critical for developing an attachment. If availability of potential attachment figures is reduced, confidence that ‘people will be around to care' diminishes. Bowlby protested that although attachment and dependency in infancy changes it is still relevant and active throughout the life cycle, from the ‘cradle to the grave'. These expectations are thought to develop in infancy and be relatively resistant to change. Bowlby also saw marriage or the equivalent as adult manifestation of attachment. There are various implications stemming from this assumption, in gregarious terms the child like behaviour and needs we display in relationships whilst young should still be somewhat observed even into adult romantic relationships. However it also possible that our attachment related behaviours change over time, dependent on our experiences.

Infant attachments have several characteristic features, such as seeking proximity particularly in times of stress, distress when separated, pleasure when reunited and a general orientation or preference for the individual over others (Maccoby 1980). These traits have also been reported in adult attachments. Hazan and Shaver (1990) reported that couples feel safer when their partner is nearby, accessible and responsive to their needs. They are also used as a secure base from which to explore leisure or work activities. This sounds very pleasant but may not be all that applicable to modern relationships. We are attracted to those who are successful at work, studies or socially. I feel a more fitting purpose is that the partner offers a refuge from the exploration. Perhaps as infants we require a safe base in order to explore, but as we get older we learn it's nice to have a refuge from the exploration, but not necessary. It is suggestible that in the same way infants learn and crave someone to care for them, so do adults.

Like all interpersonal relationships in adulthood, infant attachments are unique. Infants, parents, caregivers, partners can adopt predictable or explainable patterns of behaviour, but there is still a great deal of variation in our motives and desires for relationships. Mary Ainsworth was impressed with Bowlby's notions of attachments, and her subsequent research played a critical role in implementing his theories. In particular her findings of (1978) along with Blehar,Waters and Wall. Their observation and assessment technique better known as the Strange Situation tests the child's responses to a series of anxiety evoking...
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