Major Movements in Psychology - Attachment Theory

16 important questions on Major Movements in Psychology - Attachment Theory

Who was John Bowlby?

John Bowlby (1907-1990) was a British psychoanalylist who became concerned with the devastating impact of early mother-child separations, which he frequently witnessed when working in post-World War II England.

Disturbed by the dismissal of real-life events in the psychoanalytic world view, Bowlby's insistence on the real-time influence of the mother's presence often put him at odds with his colleagues.

Bowlby was also interested in ethology, the study of animal behavior, and eventually synthesized both psychoanalytic theory and ethology into his theory of infant-mother attachment.

What was Bowlby's concept of the internal working model?

This is a kind of mental map or script of the caregiver and the self. Through repeated attachment experiences, the child develops expectations about the availability and responsiveness of the mother (or caregiver). The child develops a working model of how the mother-child interactions will pay out and then modifies attachment behavior according to these expectations.

What does it mean to be securely attached?

A securely attached child showed interest in the toys when the mother was in the room. Some but not all babies showed mild to moderate distress in the separation episodes, the child directly sought out contact with the mother.

If the child ws distressed after the separation, contact with the mother was effective in soothing the child. This pattern of behavior is seen to reflect the child's felt security in the mother's availability and responsivity to the child's attachment needs.
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What does it mean to be insecurely attached?

A child who is insecurely attached is viewed as feeling insecure about the mother's emotional availability or responsivity to the child's attachment cues. The child then modifies his or her attachment behavior to adapt to the mother's behavior.

Are insecurely attached children less attached to their parents than are securely attached children?


What kind of parenting results in securely attached babies?

Mothers who were more sensitive to their infants during feeding, play, physical contact, and episodes of emotional distress in the first three months of life were more likely to have securely attached infants at twelve months.

What kind of parenting results in insecurely attached babies?

Mothers of avoidant babies were shown to be reliably unresponsive to the babies' cues in Ainsworth's home studies.

Mothers of resistant babies were found to be unreliably responsive to the child's attachment cues in the home setting.

How may the principles of behaviorism apply to attachment theory?

The three major attachment classifications can be explained by the laws of operant conditioning.

Avoidant attachment reflects the extinction of attachment-seeking behavior after these behaviors have consistently failed to elicit a response from the mother.

Resistant attachment reflects the opposite pattern, in which there is an increase of behavior in response to an intermittent reinforcement schedule.

Secure attachment reflects a consistent reinforcement schedule. The child has learned that attachment-seeking behaviors will be consistently and predictably rewarded, so the child simply performs them when needed and stops when they are no longer needed.

What implications does attachment style have for later child development?

Alans Sroufe and his colleagues conducted several studies looking at the impact of attachment status on later childhood development.

Children who were classified as securely attached were more likely to have better relationships with peers and teachers in later childhood than those classified as insecure.

Insecure-resistant children showed overly dependent behavior with teachers while insecure-avoidant behavior showed overly independent behavior. These children were less likely to seek help from teachers when problem solving even if they could not solve the problems themselves.

Is your attachment status fixed by the time you're one year old?

Attachment strategies are conservative, that is they are resistant to change, but they are not fixed.

When is attachment status more likely to change?

Changes in parental circumstances can impact attachment status, either positively or negatively.

How can the three child attachment styles be mapped onto Mary Main's three adult attachment styles?

Dismissing adults were hypothesized to correspond to avoidant babies.

Enmeshed adults correspond to resistant babies.

Secure adults correspond with secure babies.

The enmeshed classification was later changed to preoccupied.

How do securely attached adults act?

Adults who are securely attached value attachment and can speak about attachment relationships with feeling but will also be thoughtfull and reflective. They can take some distance from their feelings and be reasonably objective about their experiences.

On the AAI, secure adults give a coherent account of their childhood relationships with their parents and their generalized descriptions of the relationship are supported by specific memories.

In the same way that a securely attached child balances dependency and exploration, a securely attached adult balances emotion and thought.

What characterizes dismissing adults?

A dismissing adult corresponds to an avoidant infant. Attachment is devalued and dismissed by these adults with a concomitant emphasis on thought separated from emotion.

An idealized picture of childhood attachment relationships is presented though it is not backed up by supporting memories. The adult may describe his or her mother as "fine, normal, and a good mother" but only provide momories such as "Well, you know, she was always there. She was just a normal mother."

The impression is of a cool, distant relationship with minimal recognition of the child's emotional need for the parent.

How do preoccupied adults behave?

Preoccupied adults correspond to resistant infants. In contrast to dismissing adults who attempt to minimize the effect of attachment, preoccupied adults cannot turn their attention away from attachment; they are preoccupied with it.

These adults are flooded with memories of attachment relations but cannot take the distance necessary to create a coherent, objective narrative. They provide contradictory, rapidly alternating views of their attachment relationships (she was loving, no she was really selfish) accompanied by a gush of vivid memories. In this case emotion predominates over rational thought.

Does a parent's attachment style necessarily translate into a child's attachment style?

There is a strong relationship between security of attachment in parents and in their children. Secure adults are more likely to raise secure children and insecure adults are more likely to raise insecure children.

However, the type of insecure attachment in adults is less strongly correlated with the type of insecure attachment in their children.

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