Friday, August 17, 2018

Attachment and Attachment Theory

Anyone who has been around infants has a sense of the attachment bond between infants and their parents. 

Psychologists used to think the bonding was based on the infant’s natural desire for milk but that explanation changed when American scientists Harry and Margaret Harlow noticed that monkeys in their labs clung to their blankets when separated from their mothers. And they became very distressed when the blankets were taken away to be washed. In other studies, they found that young monkeys clung to cloth covered wire monkeys for security when anxious and as a safety point when exploring.

British physician John Bowlby returned from WWII to work with hospitalized children. His observations challenged the status quo views. Children need a loving caregiver to thrive. Separation and isolation are harmful and nutrition is not enough. Robert Hinde introduced Bowlby to the work of Konrad Lorenz on animal attachments (see below).

Canadian scientist Mary Ainsworth worked with Bowlby when she was in London. Later she examined Bowlby's attachment ideas in experiments at American universities using the "Strange Situation" test. She discovered three patterns of attachment. In securely attached children (two-thirds of the sample), mothers functioned as a base for exploration and a source of comfort following a brief separation. But one-third did not seem to respond differently when mother was present or absent--later studies suggested they repressed distress and acted independently--avoidant attachment. The remaining group appeared anxious and clingy throughout the study--resistant attachment.

As Jonathan Haidt observes, love conquers fear--wisdom from an ancient writer about perfect love 1 John 4:18.

Researchers Cindy Hazan and Phil Shaver developed a test for adult attachments based on the findings of Mary Ainsworth. Their findings suggested a fairly constant attachment pattern persisting into adulthood from childhood. Secure adults appear happier, have longer relationships, and have lower rates of divorce.

Familiarity Breeds Content.
Konrad Lorenz is famous for his studies of imprinting—newly hatched ducks followed him as if he were their parent. Children do not imprint (i.e., form attachments) like ducks but they do feel more secure in familiar surroundings and in the presence of familiar objects. The observation has been called the mere exposure effect. Young children enjoy familiar toys, rereading familiar stories and videos. Adults continue to enjoy familiar foods, places, and people. Most enjoy old photos and familiar stories from childhood.

Separation or Lack of Attachment in Children
Researchers have documented the serious problems found among children raised in institutions without loving caregivers. Such children are easily frightened, withdrawn, and may be speechless. Children who have been abused when they were young are at risk for abusing children when they become parents. Although many violent adults were abused as children, the reverse is not true. Many abused children do not become violent adults.

Adolescent Attachments
The human attachment system works with the human mating system. Youth seek and attach to their  romantic partners and demonstrate clingy cuddling behavior like young children. You can see this interaction on the lawns of colleges on a warm day. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt reminds us of the ancient wisdom found in Mark10:7-9 about young couples leaving their parents and joining as "one flesh."

Adult Romantic Attachments

Romantic attachment in adults follows the pattern of infants and mothers (or caregivers). Romantic partners function as attachment figures for each other. When partners are separated by death, friends do not help as much as parental support.

Adult attachment has been studied by various scientists. Nancy Collins of UCSB and her colleagues developed a measure of Adult Attachment, which includes a subscale of "Depend," which measures how much a person feels they can depend on someone when needed. This scale, revised in 1996, measures romantic relationships. There is also a reworded version that can be used to assess attachment in close relationships rather than only romantic ones.

Ad. Read more about attachment and sexuality in A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures on AMAZON and other booksellers worldwide.

Parent-Child Attachment
The human caregiver systems also work in tandem with children's attachment systems. Children's distress signals alert parents to respond with care-giving behavior that brings child and parent into close contact whether feeding or comforting.

Oxytocin Factor
Public media have overdosed on oxytocin effects; however, oxytocin does provide a sort of biochemical glue, which rises during sex--especially when there is persistent close contact. And oxytocin is at work when mothers give birth and nurse.

Attachment to God
See the related post to learn how researchers apply the theory to the relationship between humans and God.

Ad. Read more about love and compassion in chapter 10 of Living Well

Attachment Summary Notes

The attachment model of love rests on a firm foundation of ancient wisdom, observations of behavior in animals and humans, and psychological science.

A child's attachment system often persists into adulthood and accounts for important aspects of secure and insecure romantic relationships.

Attachment theory helps explain different relationships people have with God or gods.

Attachment theory helps explain a part of what happens when a spouse dies leaving the living spouse with a severe loss of comfort and support. Often, friends won't help as much as a parent.

The infant's attachment system interacts with the parent's care-giving system in human adults binding parent and child in a loving relationship.

Attachment may range from highly secure to highly insecure, very close to very avoidant, and very calm to very anxious.

Insecure attachment may be evident in avoidant behavior, but the person may experience considerable inner distress even when appearing not to care.

Insecure attachment may be evident in anxious and clingy behavior in children and adults.

Separating children from harmless parents produces harm. Food and shelter are important, but love is critical for survival.

Related Posts

Attachment to God

Attachment to God Inventory

Adult Attachment Scale


Ainsworth, M. S., & Bowlby, J. (1991). An ethological approach to personality development. American Psychologist, 46(4), 333-341. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.46.4.333

Bretherton, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, 28(5), 759-775. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.28.5.759

Collins, N. L. (1996).  Working models of attachment: Implications for explanation, emotion, and behavior.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 810-832.

Collins, N. L., & Read, S. J. (1990).  Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 644-663.

Haidt, J. (2006). The happiness hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books

Harlow, H. F. (1958). The nature of love. American Psychologist, 13, 673–685.

Suomi, S. J., van der Horst, F. P., & van der Veer, R. (2008). Rigorous experiments on monkey love: An account of Harry F. Harlow's role in the history of attachment theory. Integrative Psychological & Behavioral Science, 42(4), 354-369. doi:10.1007/s12124-008-9072-9

Sutton, G. W. & Mittelstadt, M. W. (2012). Loving God and loving others: Learning about love from psychological science and Pentecostal perspectives. Journal of Christianity and Psychology, 31, 157-166.  Academia Link Research Gate Link

Ad: Keep parents and children close with respectful discipline

Discipline with Respect on AMAZON


My Page

My Books  

 Geoff W. Sutton

TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton

LinkedIN Geoffrey Sutton  PhD

Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)

No comments:

Post a Comment