Bowlby developed attachment theory from a combination of psychoanalytic theory and learning theory. Psychoanalytic theory according to Freud (1926), attributed the development of attachment to the satisfaction of the child’s instinctual drives by the mother. Freud stated that the emotional bond between mother and child forms as a result of the infant’s attachment to the mother as provider of food. Learning theory (Watson & Raynor, 1920) also perceived the mother-infant bond to develop as a result of the pairing of the mother’s presence with need satisfaction. Experiments with Rhesus monkeys by Harlow (1958) proved these theories to be wrong because infant monkeys sought out a surrogate mother that could provide tactile comfort rather than one that provided food.
Bowlby (1958) incorporated psychoanalytic and learning theories in his theory of attachment. His theory differed from those theories in that it postulated that attachment primarily provides protection and is secondarily linked to need satisfaction. According to Bowlby (1982), attachment behavior is “a special class of behavior with its own dynamics distinct from drive theory’s dynamics of either feeding or sex, the two sources of human motivation long regarded as most fundamental” (p. 668). Bowlby stated that all organisms have a genetic predisposition to activate behavior systems such as attachment behaviors, to adapt to the environment in order to protect the individual and preserve the species. Bowlby (1973) defined attachment as “any form of behavior that results in a person attaining or retaining proximity to some other differentiated and preferred individual, who is conceived as stronger and/or wiser” (p. 203). According to Bowlby (1979), the strong emotions associated with an attachment relationship help to maintain the relationship.
Bowlby (1969/1982) describes attachment from an ethological viewpoint, and his underlying assumption is that infants who maintain proximity to their caretakers are more likely to survive and therefore pass on their genetic material. Attaining proximity to the mother/caretaker ensures protection, which provides many survival advantages, one of which is to avoid being eaten by predators. Therefore, infants will seek their parents particularly in times of distress.
Bowlby assigns attachment behavior to two categories, “signaling behavior” and “approach behavior.” Signaling behavior is any behavior that aims to bring the caretaker to the infant. Approach behavior is any behavior the infant uses to bring him/herself closer to the caretaker. The caretaker responds with what Bowlby refers to as “care taking behavior” (Bowlby, 1969.) The infant’s attachment behavior occurs in response to the caretaker’s availability and attunement to the infant’s distress signals. When the caretaker is readily available, the child feels secure and can use the caretaker as a safe base. When feeling distressed, the infant will look to the caretaker for comfort, and if the caretaker is not readily available, the child’s sense of security is threatened.
Bowlby (1969/1982) describes two types of danger related factors that activate the attachment system. One type of danger is internal stimuli such as hunger or pain. The other type of danger is external stimuli such as a physical threat in the environment. The location and response of the mother is vital because attachment seeking behavior stops upon contact with the caretaker.
In attachment theory, Bowlby posits the existence of five major behavioral systems (exploratory, fear, sociable, caregiving and attachment). One is the fear/waring system, which I explored in my dissertation. The development of wariness towards new and sudden events and unfamiliar humans is a survival mechanism. If the waring system is activated the infant will retreat to his/her caretaker. The infant becomes more wary from the age of 6 months -24 months. This is advantageous because infants of that age are vulnerable to danger from the world as well as other humans and cannot yet determine potential causes of harm.
Another behavioral system is the exploratory system. Bowlby expounds on the connection between the exploratory behavioral system and the fear/wariness behavioral system. Activation of the fear system increases attachment behavior by focusing on finding protection while activation of the exploratory system on the other hand, can reduce attachment behaviors. When the fear/wariness system is activated, the exploratory system is deactivated. However, if the caretaker provides a secure base, then the fear system can deactivate and reactivate the exploratory system.
Representational models. Bowlby (1969/1982) proposed that representational models are developed which allow anticipation of future care-taking behaviors. The child relies on this model when deciding what type of attachment behavior to use in specific circumstances and with particular individuals. He suggests that attachment behaviors are an outgrowth of a child’s representational models, which are also referred to as internal working models. According to Bowlby, internal working models are accurate cognitive representations of interactions between the child and caretaker. Another theorist who refers to representational models is Stern (1985). He refers to “representations of interactions generalized” (RIGS.) All of these terms refer to an internal template of interpersonal relationships. According to Stern, RIGS clearly represent reality and are abstractions made by the child of the prototype of self-caretaker interactions. According to Eagle (1995), the temperament of the infant also plays a key role in determining the nature of the representations that will develop based on the infant’s experience of objective events.
Bowlby (1973) states that if a child experiences a dependable and consistent relationship with an attachment figure, the child will develop confidence in the self and trust in others. If, however, a caretaker is unavailable for an extended period of time, the child feels threatened and hostile. Working models of this type of attachment system cause the child to expect that his/her attachment needs will not be met.
According to Bretherton and Munholland (1999), Bowlby’s working model of the self as valued is based on a working model of one’s parents being emotionally available. A working model of self as devalued comes from a working model of parents as rejecting and ignoring of attachment behavior or as interfering with exploration. Therefore, individuals will develop internal working models of a devalued self based on insecure attachment to parents.
Bartholomew’s model of attachment. Bartholomew categorized attachment styles into a four-category model, based on Bowlby’s theory of attachment and internal working models of the self and of the other (Bartholomew, 1990). Of the four categories, one category is considered to be secure and three are considered to be insecure. They are: secure, fearful, preoccupied and avoidant.
Bartholomew’s model conceptualizes attachment styles in terms of positive and negative views of self and other. For example, an individual with a positive self-model and a positive other model will be securely attached because that person feels good about self and others and positive about interpersonal relationships. An individual with a negative self model and a negative other model will be fearfully attached because that person does not feel good about self or other, and will feel ambivalent about interpersonal relationships. An individual with a negative model of self and positive model of other will fit into the preoccupied attachment group, feeling needy and attempting to make contact with others due to negative feelings of self worth. An individual with a negative model of other and positive model of self will fit into the avoidant attachment group, avoiding contact with others and feeling negatively about interpersonal relationships.
Bartholomew’s model of attachment style has been supplemented by Brenan, Clark and Shaver’s (1998) model based on avoidance and anxiety. According to them, avoidance is discomfort with closeness and dependency. Anxiety can be described as failure to explore confidently in the absence of the mother and consists of angry protests after feeling abandoned by mother. Brenan, Clark and Shaver (1998) cite Scharfe’s (1996) statement that a negative model of self is closely associated with anxiety about abandonment and a negative model of others is closely associated with avoidant behavior.
It is important to discuss the underlying traits of attachment styles. The following descriptions incorporate explanations by Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991), Stein, Jacobs, Ferguson, Allen and Fonagy (1998) and Brenan, Clark and Shaver (1998).
According to Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991), secure attachment style is a sense of worthiness (lovability) plus an expectation that other people will be generally accepting and responsive. Individuals with secure attachment styles are able to have close relationships, be dependent on others and have others be dependent on them. According to Stein et al. (1998), individuals with secure attachment have a positive sense of self worth and believe the best of others. Their parents appear to have been supportive, warm and accepting. Their positive self model is demonstrated by their warmth, confidence and flexible coping skills. They are able to use others as support and be independent at the same time. They strongly like others, are liked by others and are able to self disclose.
Relationships are characterized by mutuality, closeness and respect. According to Brenan et al. (1998) securely attached individuals are neither anxious about abandonment nor avoidant in their behavior. They believe that others will be available to support and comfort them as needed. As per Bowlby (1969), such individuals possess a secure base from which to explore the world.
On the other hand, according to Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991), fearful attachment style, is a sense of unworthiness (unlovability) combined with an expectation that others will be non-responsive to one’s needs (untrustworthy and rejecting). It is a type of avoidant attachment style and individuals with such attachment styles are considered by others to be cold and passive. Individuals with fearful attachment styles lack self esteem and social confidence. According to Stein et al. (1998), they long for but avoid intimacy due to a fear of rejection. In childhood they had critical, rejecting parents whose behavior ranged from abusiveness or extreme coldness to unavailability. They come across to others as insecure, hesitant, vulnerable and self conscious. Their negative self perception is reflected in their emotional dependence, jealousy and intense separation anxiety. They respond to distress with emotional reactivity, but cannot take actions to alleviate their distress. They would like to open up to others but are worried about being unlikeable and unwanted. In a relationship, they take on a passive, dependent and self blaming role and are more invested in the relationship than their partner. According to Brenan et al. (1998) fearfully attached individuals have anxiety about abandonment and engage in avoidant behavior.
According to Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991), preoccupied attachment is a feeling of unworthiness (unlovability) combined with a positive evaluation of others. Such individuals strive for self acceptance by gaining the approval of valued others. Individuals with such attachment styles are considered by others to be warm and dominant and also blame themselves for perceived rejections in order to maintain a positive view of others. According to Stein et al. (1998), they are likely to have had overprotective, inept and inconsistent parenting. They remain emotionally enmeshed with their family and shift between idealizing and devaluing their parents. They are emotionally reactive and expressive and seek out the support of others when upset. They are dependent on others for self esteem and have jealousy and separation anxiety. They often see others as unreliable or unavailable. Relationships are very important, and they are clingy, dependent and dominant. Individuals with preoccupied attachment styles tend to have difficulties becoming close to and relying on others. According to Brenan et al. (1998), such individuals have anxiety but not avoidance, thereby engaging in interpersonal approach.
According to Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991), dismissing attachment style consists of a sense of worthiness (lovability) and a negative evaluation of other people. Such individuals protect themselves against disappointment by avoiding close relationships and maintaining a sense of independence and invulnerability. They downplay the importance of others who they experience as rejecting and thereby maintain high self-esteem. According to Stein et al. (1998), they do not value attachment relationships and overemphasize independence, emotional control and achievement. Their parents are likely to have been rejecting, cool, unemotional and lacking in affection or focused on achievement and independence. They tend to idealize their parents and justify early rejection. They claim to be unaffected by rejection and exhibit little jealousy and separation anxiety. They tend not to like others very much and are critical, distant and unaffectionate. They rarely express emotional upset and have superficial friendships with little self-disclosure. Their relationships lack intimacy and they are uncomfortable with commitment and dependency. According to Brenan et al. (1998), individuals with dismissing attachment styles combine avoidant behavior with apparent lack of anxiety about abandonment. Such individuals are reluctant to rely on others and to count on them for emotional support. In specific, the dismissing attachment style is a defense in response to the unavailability of needed caretakers but such individuals are not as unaffected by separation from their caretakers as they seem.
Bartholomew (1990) goes on to state that avoidant children do desire contact, but do not show it in their behavior. She quotes research that has shown that children with dismissing attachment style do exhibit accelerated heart rate when separated from mother, even though they do not show it in their behavior. Unlike secure infants, their heart rates do not decelerate upon reunion with mother (Sroufe & Waters, 1977). Bowlby (1978) also states that in compulsively-self reliant ndividuals, there is much unconscious yearning for support and love but with underlying resentment.
Empirical research confirms the above model of attachment style. Ainsworth (1978) found that mothers of securely attached infants were sensitive to the infants’ signals and showed warmth in their interactions. In contrast, mothers of insecurely attached infants were inconsistent, lacked sensitivity to their infants’ needs, and Ainsworth considered them to be “rejecting.” She described such mothers as averse to physical contact and exhibiting hostile and critical behavior towards their infants. Research has also found that an infant’s attachment style is linked to their social emotional adjustment. For example, secure two year olds are more autonomous and competent in problem solving situations than non securely attached children (Matas, Arend & Sroufe 1978). Dismissing children were likely to be described by teachers as distant and withdrawn or hostile and aggressive (Sroufe, 1983).
Once attachment patterns are formed, they are difficult to break because they assimilate new experiences into the working model (Bowlby, 1980). New experiences are interpreted as fulfilling the already present expectation. perspective below.