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John Bowlby : Attachment Theory
Transcript of John Bowlby : Attachment Theory
By: Marissa Malouf
John Bowlby was born in London, England in 1907 to parents of prestigious socioeconomic status. His father was a surgeon to the king and his mother lived a lavish life style.
Bowlby attended Cambridge University and graduated in 1928. Soon after, he began professionally training at British Psychoanalytic Institute, as a Child Psychiatrist.
Bowlby is considered to be the Father of Attachment Theory. He believed infants have a biological predisposition to form attachments with others because they depend on others to fulfill their needs for survival . He also believed attachment instinct could be activated by various threats, such as fear or separation. This instinct is activated because primary caregivers allow infants to develop a sense of security and secure base for the infant to explore the world.
Mary Ainsworth expanded on Bowlby's Theory of Attachment by suggesting that there are different patterns and stages of attachment. While these patterns and stages are not specifically a part of Bowlby's Attachment Theory, Ainsworth suggests that they closely identify with his theory.
Basic Attachment Theory
There are three main ideas behind basic attachment theory:
Patterns of Attachment
Stages of Attachment
Milestones in Attachment Theory Development
Consequences of Bowlby's Work
Bowlby's work was very influential, had real-life application and changed the approach to psychology.
Tarzan is a hypothetical individual who best represents John Bowlby's Theory of Attachment.
He and his five siblings were raised by a nanny and spent very little time with their mother.
Similar to many other mothers in her social class, Bowlby's mother felt that parental attention and affection would lead to dangerous spoiling of her children. When Bowlby was seven, the nanny left the family, and for Bowlby, this was a tragic loss of his maternal figure.
He studied Psychology and preclinical sciences at Trinity College, in Cambridge. He also enrolled at the University College Hospital, in London and simultaneously enrolled at the Institute for Psychoanalysis at age 26.
Following Medical School, Bowlby trained in Adult Psychiatry at Maudsley Hospital & at age 30 he qualified as a psychoanalyst.
Bowlby was Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps during WWII. He worked for Children Guidance Clinic, in East London and worked with maladapted and delinquent children.
The attachment theory developed when Bowlby sought better understanding of attachment (the lasting psychological connectedness between humans) through other fields; evolutionary biology, ethology, developmental psychology, and cognitive science.
Bowlby was very influenced by ethological theory, specifically Lorenz's 1935 study of imprinting. Lorenz's study showed that attachment was innate and therefore has a survival value. Lorenz studied this in animals, specifically ducklings.
Lorenz's study of imprinting showed primary formations of social bonds in infant animals. This was later identified as essential components of innate behavior. Bowlby was able to use this study to suggest that infants show similar innate behaviors.
Why Attachment is Important
Researchers have found that attachment patterns established early in life can lead to a number of outcomes:
Children who are securely attached as infants tend to develop stronger self-esteem and better self reliance as they get older.
Children also tend to be more independent, perform better in school, have successful social relationships and experience less depression and anxiety.
A child has an innate need to attach to one main attachment figure. If attachment does not form, two serious consequences may occur. A child may develop the inability to experience guilt or deep feelings for others, which may lead to delinquency, and secondly from improper development, some children may suffer from low intelligence.
Continual disruption of the attachment between the infant and the caregiver could result in long-term cognitive, social, and emotional difficulties. This is referred to as the Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis.
In 1951 Bowlby published this hypothesis. His hypothesis stated that a child needs the continuous presence of the a maternal figure throughout their critical period. The critical period was believed to be the first 18 to 24 months and attachment during this period was seen as most important in order for a child to learn the rules of society and how to interact with others, including spoken and body language.
Problems with Attachment
In addition to the Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis, which suggests a few issues that may arise from improper or no attachment, here are a few more examples.
Failure to form secure attachments early in life can have negative impacts on behavior in late childhood and throughout life.
Children diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, frequently show attachment problems: possibly attributed to early abuse, neglect, or trauma.
Clinicians suggest that children adopted after age six months have a higher risk of attachment problems.
How can we apply Attachment Theory Today?
Attachment theory is continuously being used to explore the implications of those very early experiences in life, on outcomes later on.
Mary Ainsworth was a developmental psychologist known for her work in early emotional attachment with "The Strange Situation" as well as her work in the development of Attachment Theory.
Basic Attachment Theory (Children to Caregivers) is the most dominant theory today used in the study of infant and toddler behavior and in the field of infant Mental Health, treatment of children and other related fields.
Children to Caregivers:
Children develop different styles of attachment based on experiences and interactions with their caregivers.
Adult Romantic Relationships:
Explores how attachment impacts relationship outcomes and function in relationship dynamics (affect, regulation, support, intimacy and jealousy).
Assessing - The strange situation: Story based approaches (attachment story completion test)
Can be used with both children and adults.
Marked by distress when separated from caregivers and joy when the caregiver returns.
When frightened, children seek comfort from caregivers because they know the caregiver will provide comfort and reassurance so they are comfortable seeking them out in times of need.
Anxious Avoidant Attachment
Children who display this pattern of attachment tend to avoid parents or caregivers.
When offered a choice, these children will show no preference between a caregiver and a complete stranger.
Research suggests this style may be a result of abusive or neglectful caregivers (i.e. children who have been punished for relying on a caregiver will learn to avoid seeking help in the future.
Anxious Ambivalent Attachment
Children become very distressed when a parent leaves.
This is a relatively uncommon attachment style and only affects 7-15% of children in the United States.
Suggested to be a result of poor maternal availability.
Children cannot rely on their mother or caregiver to be there in their time of need.
Often displays a confusing mix of behaviors and may seem disoriented, dazed or confused.
Children may avoid or resist the parent.
Some researchers believe lack of a clear attachment pattern is likely linked to inconsistent behavior from caregivers (i.e. parents may serve as a source of comfort and fear - resulting in disorganized parent behavior).
Birth to three months, infants do not show any particular attachment to a specific caregiver.
Infants signals like crying and fussing naturally attract the attention of the caregiver and the babies positive responses encourage the caregiver to remain close.
Six weeks to seven months, infants begin to show preferences for primary and secondary caregivers.
During this phase infants start to develop a feeling of trust that the caregiver will respond to their needs.
Still accept care from other people but become better at distinguishing between familiar and unfamiliar people (closest to seven months).
Respond more positively to the primary caregiver.
Seven to eleven months, infants show a strong attachment and preference for one specific individual.
Children act out or protest when separated from the primary caregiver (separation anxiety) and begin to display anxiety around strangers (stranger anxiety)
After nine months, infants begin to form strong emotional bonds with other caregivers beyond the primary attachment figure (i.e. father, older siblings, grandparents).
1946 - Juvenile Thieves: looking at a group of juvenile thieves and their background to identify a relationship between early attachments and future behavior
Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis
"A two-year-old Goes to Hospital"
In 1952 Bowlby made a documentary with psychology student James Robertson called "A two-year-old goes to hospital".
Internal Working Model
Internal working models are mental representations of a child's attachment with their primary caregiver
It is suggested that a child who internalizes a working model as kind and reliable will tend to bring such qualities to future relationships and should succeed as a parent themselves
However, it is also suggested that those who internalize a negative model (kids who have been neglected or abused) will have a chance of reproducing those patterns in future relationships or as a future parent
Social releasers are consequences of separation anxiety and aid survival which aim to reunite mom and infant.
Loss of a primary caregiver results in deprivation. This separation causes separation anxiety, which triggers a response in the infant designed to bring back the mom.
These responses are social releasers, innate and instinctive behaviors we are born with for survival.
These responses include but are not limited to sucking, crying, cuddling, looking and smiling.
The government used Bowlby's work and hypotheses for political purposes to most famously market that women should stay at home and look after their children, discouraging women from going out to work (and taking the men's jobs) and leaving children in daycare.
Hospitals made changes regarding visiting hours. They originally thought infants in the hospital long-term would become upset if parents visited for a long time, therefore discouraged parents from visiting. However, Bowlby's work showed the importance of attachment and so parents were then encouraged to visit and spend as much time as possible with their children in the hospital.
Widespread changes were made for institutional care provided to infants and children. Care homes made sure infants were well fed, washed and clothed and Bowlby stressed the importance of caregiver interaction (i.e. nursing staff).
When Tarzan was an infant his mother and his father were killed by Sabor, leaving Tarzan in the jungle with no parents and no chance of survival.
As the movie progresses, however, Kala and Kerchak adopt Tarzan and take on a parent role. The apes show Tarzan love, attention, comfort and support in times of need, all of which we have learned from Bowlby's theory, are crucial to developing a healthy and relatively normal attachment style.
Applying a Theory
According to Bowlby's theory, infants with secure attachment are identified as being in distress when separated from caregivers and are joyed when caregivers return. We notice this exact event, almost immediately following the death of Tarzan's parents. Kala, the female ape, who had just lost her own son to Sabor, heard an infant cry. She risked her life to save the infant from the Tiger. This cry is what Bowlby refers to as a social releaser. When a child cries we attribute this to being an instinctive behavior of trying to survive.
Applying a Theory
If it had not been for Kala who stepped in as a mother for Tarzan, he could have been at high risk for developing cognitive, social and emotional issues, related to the maternal deprivation hypothesis. If Kala had not acted as Tarzan’s mother, while we do not know exactly if he would have survived or how he would have acted later in life, he would have been at high risk for delinquency and low intelligence according to Bowlby’s hypothesis.
Applying a Theory
We also are able to apply Ainsworth's Stages of Attachment to Tarzan's life. Age milestones, mark various characteristics, typically seen in infants of those same ages and Tarzan fits each of those stages.
Preattachment: We notice that he cries and fusses to naturally attract attention, of which he mostly gets from Kala.
Indiscriminate: From the beginning Kala knew she had to adopt and take care of Tarzan, it was in her maternal instinct to do so, despite having no support from her mate Kerchak. Tarzan would still accept help from the other apes and his friends, but primarily looked for help from his new mother.
Discriminate: As Tarzan grew older, we see a strong reliance on Kala. While he strays off early on and becomes acclimated with the environment and who and what is around him, he primarily attaches to Kala as a safe, reliable figure.
Multiple Attachments: Lastly, we see Tarzan in this stage where he forms strong bonds and attachments with his siblings, friends, and new found love Jane.