What is the theory of attachment?

1 Answer
May 27, 2016

Bowlby's attachment theory is comprised of many different aspects.


So, Bowlby's theory consists of four main areas:
The Evolutionary basis of attachment
Social Releasers
Maternal Deprivation
Internal Working Models

The Evolutionary Basis:
This means that the behaviour shown by babies (Clinginess, upset when their carer is gone, etc) is a process which was formed over many thousands, tens of thousands of years. It first goes back to cavemen/tribesmen who had many threats to them, so the children who cried and stayed close to their carer would survive, where as those who wondered off... Well. let's just say they didn't wonder back, and so babies which desired close proximity lived, and those that did not, died, and over the years, this became innate.

Social Releasers
Social releasers are a set of instinctive behaviours/actions which supposedly all infants have and show, such as smiling, and sucking. The function of these behaviours are to elicit instinctive responses from parents/carers*. This interaction between the child and carer leads to the formation of an attachment, and Bowlby believed a lack of response lead to psychological damage.
When it comes to forming an attachment, Bowlby believed the first 2-3 years were most important, and if no attachment was formed, then forming one would increase in difficulty.

*Parents/carers will be used interchangeably since it does not have to be a parent, but it is necessary for the carer to have a substantial presence in the first 2 to 3 years of the baby's life.

Maternal Deprivation
A child requires the continuous presence of a primary carer through a sensitive period lasting at least 18 to 24 months.
Bowlby believed that a failure of an attachment lead to two consequences, affectionless psychopathy and developmental retardation.
Affectionless psychopathy refers to having an inability to experience guilt and empathy, and who find it hard to form relationships. This is often related to criminality.
Developmental retardation refers to a individuals who suffer from lowered cognitive functioning.

Sensitive period = a period of time when infants are particularly sensitive to imprinting.

Internal Working Models
Bowlby believed that children formed a mental representation of their first attachment, which affects their relationships in later life, including parenthood.
Attachments formed on kindness and reliability will bring these attributes to future relationships, similarly with abuse and neglect.

Hope this was helpful (: