A Brief History of Attachment Theory

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Lifespan Human Development Summer 2006 A Brief History of Attachment Theory The theory of attachment was originally developed by John Bowlby (1907 - 1990), a British psychoanalyst who observed intense and distressful behaviors among orphans in hospitals during and after World War II. Between 1948 and 1952 Bowlby, along with his employee and then colleague, James Robertson, came to realize that infants who had been separated from their parents were not able to form an attachment with a primary caregiver, leading to anxiety or ultimately to insecurity or disassociation. Bowlby’s theory was also influenced by his observations of nonhuman primates. In the helpless young, he saw infant behaviors geared towards fostering…show more content…
Bowlby (1988) describes a secure base as “the provision by which both parents offer a secure base from which a child or an adolescent can make sorties into the outside world and to which he can return knowing for sure that he will be welcomed when he gets there, nourished physically and emotionally, comforted if distressed, reassured if frightened” (p. 11). Depending on the infant’s reaction to the caregiver 's leaving, the attachment styles are described as “secure,” “insecure-ambivalent,” or “insecure-avoidant.” This is the infant’s Internal Working Model, Bowlby postulates, on which all future relationships will be based. Secure infants show a balance between involvement with their environment and the mother. They explore the environment, but as the Strange Situation continues, they increasingly use the mother as a secure base. Initially, they may cry when their mother leaves the room but then, because of their secure base, will usually pacify themselves and return to play. Infants with insecure-ambivalent attachment style are unable to disengage from the mother because they feel doubtful about their secure base. These infants may not be able to calm themselves when their mother leaves, continuing to cry until her return. Even when she does return, they may not be pacified; also, these infants may waver between wanting to be held by their mother and then pushing her away when she attempts to pick them up.
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