Attachment Theory

Attachment theory describes the dynamics of long-term relationships between humans. Its most important tenet is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally. Attachment theory explains how much the parents relationship with the child influences development. Attachment theory is an interdisciplinary study encompassing the fields of psychological, evolutionary, and ethological theory. Immediately after World War II, homeless and orphaned children presented many difficulties, and psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby was asked by the UN to write a pamphlet on the issue which he entitled Maternal deprivation. Attachment theory grew out of his subsequent work on the issues raised.

Infants become attached to individuals who are sensitive and responsive in social interactions with them, and who remain as consistent caregivers for some months during the period from about six months to two years of age. When an infant begins to crawl and walk they begin to use attachment figures (familiar people) as a secure base to explore from and return to. Caregivers' responses lead to the development of patterns of attachment; these, in turn, lead to internal working models which will guide the individual's perceptions, emotions, thoughts and expectations in later relationships. Separation anxiety or grief following the loss of an attachment figure is considered to be a normal and adaptive response for an attached infant. These behaviours may have evolved because they increase the probability of survival of the child.

Research by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1960s and 70s reinforced the basic concepts, introduced the concept of the "secure base" and developed a theory of a number of attachment patterns in infants: secure attachment, avoidant attachment and anxious attachment. A fourth pattern, disorganized attachment, was identified later.

In the 1980s, the theory was extended to attachment in adults. Other interactions may be construed as including components of attachment behaviour; these include peer relationships at all ages, romantic and sexual attraction and responses to the care needs of infants or the sick and elderly.

In the early days of the theory, academic psychologists criticized Bowlby, and the psychoanalytic community ostracised him for his departure from psychoanalytical tenets; however, attachment theory has since become "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". Later criticisms of attachment theory relate to temperament, the complexity of social relationships, and the limitations of discrete patterns for classifications. Attachment theory has been significantly modified as a result of empirical research, but the concepts have become generally accepted. Attachment theory has formed the basis of new therapies and informed existing ones, and its concepts have been used in the formulation of social and childcare policies to support the early attachment relationships of children.

Read more about Attachment Theory:  Attachment, Changes in Attachment During Childhood and Adolescence, Attachment Patterns, Attachment in Adults, Recent Developments, Biology of Attachment, Practical Applications

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