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A summary of attachment theory.

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A summary of attachment theory. Copyright 1999, R. F. Bettler, Jr. Attachment theory derives from work of Bowlby in his three volume examination of the mother-child bonding. His notions derive from evolutionary principles and cybernetics. Babies have evolved certain behaviors because they increased survival: orienting towards the caregiver, distress over separation from the caregiver, searching for the caregiver. Human parents have evolved to respond to certain features of the baby, e.g., physiological arousal at the baby's cries, attraction to neonate facial features, etc. Bowlby felt that from his/her early experiences with caregivers, the child created a mental model of how relationships operate. Throughout life, then, the child, even into adulthood, will expect love relationships to echo the relationship he/she formed with important caregivers. If those early relationships were warm and caring, then the child would grow up expecting that other relationships would be warm and caring. If the early relationships were cold and neglectful, or even abusive, then the person would grow up expecting the same from other adult relationships. ...read more.


They became very distressed when they mother left, but were very happy when she returned. Another group of babies exhibited what Ainsworth called an Avoidant style (about 25%). These interacted more coolly with their mother, exhibited less distress at her departure and were cool to her upon her return. Finally, Ainsworth's Anxious-Ambivalent style (15-20% of babies), were distressed at mother's leaving and angrier with her on her return. Bowlby had suggested that attachment was a "cradle to grave" feature of relationships and working models of relationships are formed in infancy that influence relationships throughout adulthood. But no one really investigated attachment styles beyond childhood until the seminal contribution of Hazan and Shaver (87). Their contribution was to apply attachment theory to adult relationships. They devised a simple one-item measure of each attachment style. When they administered it to adults, they found proportions of each style nearly identical to those found by Ainsworth with babies. There have been criticisms of the Hazan and Shaver approach. ...read more.


Baldwin, Fehr, their colleagues and other theorists have begun to question the tacit assumption of some early adult attachment work, that attachment styles are trait-like variables. A potentially more productive approach is to return to Bowlby's working model notion, cast in cognitive terms, i.e., as relationship schemas. A series of studies by Baldwin et al. showed the feasibility of this approach. They found, for example, that people might be classified using the Hazan and Shaver typology, yet report relationship histories of other types of relationships. If attachment style were a trait, one might expect more consistency across situations. For example, Avoidants did not report that most of their relationships had been of this type. Rather they, and all three types, reported that most of their relationships had been of the Secure type. In other studies, Baldwin et al. showed that most people have cognitive access to all three relationship types. Other experiments showed that these types, like other schemas, could be primed or made more accessible, which exerted some influence on information processing. Other recent studies have supported the cognitive interpretation of attachment styles. ...read more.

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