Attachment Theory: Early childhood attachment and its influence on adult romantic relationships

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                 Attachment Theory                                                                                                                                                      



Attachment Theory: Early childhood attachment and

its influence on adult romantic relationships


Bowlby (1988) proposed attachment theory as a model for exploring human tendencies for forming early infant / caregiver emotional bonds. Studies by Harlow (1965) highlighted the long term dysfunctional effects on infant monkeys when primary care givers were absent. This raised the likelihood of an evolutionary basis for forming attachments in species including humans. Lorenz also recognized the tendencies of animals to formulate early bonds of attachment during critical developmental periods. Bowlby established a theory where the normative goal was one of security attachment. This was later expanded upon by other theorists who recognised the existence of three primary attachment styles. Others found that similar styles are evident in adult individuals. The question is posed whether they are in fact interrelated and dependent or mutually exclusive. This essay argues in support of recent research where longitudinal studies indicate a strong correlation between infant attachment and adult romantic relationship styles.

Attachment Theory: Early childhood attachment and

its influence on adult romantic relationships

        According to Bowlby (1988), attachment theory is a suitable model for exploring the human tendency to form close emotional bonds between particular individuals; recognizing that such affinities exist as fundamental elements of our nature. Both historic and current research indicates that the notion of attachment may be driven by the influence of fundamental mechanisms that exist within the active phases of our early attachment to others. It is suggested that such primary attachment tendencies, between an infant and its primary care giver, are strong determinants of romantic attachment styles occurring much later; such as those evident between a fully developed adult and his/her chosen significant other. Upon research evidence supporting the basis of this theoretical correlation, it will be argued that the attachment style a child forms with its parents will later determine and significantly entail the pattern of their adult romantic relationships and how such relationships are mediated.

        The correlation between infant socialisation processes and subsequent adult relationship styles has long been the subject of psychological debate. An influential study exemplifying the importance of infant attachment was carried out by Harlow in 1965. The study separated infant Rhesus monkeys from their mothers but maintained the conditions of their diet and enclosure environment (Harlow, 1965). Harlow (1965) found that these infant monkeys began showing signs of disturbance such as holding onto their own bodies and expressing grief. Interestingly, in adulthood, the monkeys were found to be socially dysfunctional and ineffectual in terms of typical mating conduct and maternal behaviour (Harlow, 1965). A key observation of the study was that, for those infant monkeys who were presented with a substitute cloth for their mother, they became attached to it and their subsequent behaviour responded positively. The researched suggests that attachment to a ‘mother’ figure has instinctive mechanisms (deCatanzaro, 1999; Harlow, 1965).

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        Evolutionary theorists have long recognized that humans, along with many other species, are incapable of maintaining independent survival within their early infancy period. It was Lorenz who first recognized this; by observing that young animals have a tendency to follow and stay close to another animal of which they had exposure to during a sensitive period in their development (Bateson, 1990; Westen, Burton & Kowalski, 2006). Darwinists, and those with more evolutionary orientated leanings, would suggest that such fortuitous attachment arrangements are highly adaptive to environmental fitness and are necessary precursors to higher probability in survival. Upon such reasoning, British psychoanalyst ...

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