Attachment refers to the strong emotional bond between two individuals (usually between the child and the mother or primary care giver) (Louw & Edwards, 1997). The formation of this bond has proven essential for the healthy development of a child. The process is a gradual one of learned recognition and recall, of learned patterns of interaction with the significant other (Harris, 1991). Theorists believe that a lack of, or absence of attachment leads to a wide range of related psychological problems in later life. Harlow’s investigation with rhesus monkeys reinforces this theory. His results, later to be discussed in this essay, demonstrated adverse affects on the infant through the inadequate social interaction and attachment formation between mother and child. Attachment is also seen as an affectional tie that endures over time and space.Bowlbys attachment theory advances a multi-disciplinary stance in which psychoanalysis is integrated with Ethology and sociobiology, Psychobiology, the cybernetic theory of control systems and modern structural approach to cognitive development (Montuori & Garelli, 1997). These disciplines were first employed to understand the origin, function and development of the child’s socio-emotional relations.
Bowlby saw attachment behaviour as an integral component of behavioural systems. John Bowlby first suggested that a child’s subsequent socio-emotional well-being might be affected by disruption in the pattern of early infant care. His observations led him to believe that so-called deviant adolescents were the result of serious disruptions and the pattern of parental care administered to them in childhood. Bowlby believed that in order to reverse the effect, an infant would have to latch on to a single caregiver and establish a relationship with as little disruption as possible (Harris, 1991). Interactions between child and parent (attachment figure) lead to a strengthening of affectional bonds. “Emotional life is seen as dependent on the formation, maintenance, disruption or renewal of attachment relationships”(Montuori & Garelli, 1997). Affectional bonds and emotions have close ties within psychology and psychopathology.
Attachment is not automatically present at birth, but develops in stages (Hock, 1997; Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1969). Bowlby observed four steps in the development of attachment. At first, the infant treats everyone in the same manner.
The term behavioural system stands for the underlying organisational structure mediating a variety of observable discreet behaviours. (Montuori & Garelli, 1997). Observable discreet behaviours in human infants include grasping, sucking, following, approaching, smiling, crying and clinging. These behaviours are a means of increasing proximity and establishing contact with the caregiver. They are all signals that activate the maternal behaviour of the caregiver. They usually begin in the second stage of early development when the infant recognizes its primary caregivers.
The next stage, also known as filial imprinting (strangers to close kin are avoided) results in a closer following of the offspring to their parents. Attachment bonds are formed and strengthened when proximity is maintained. An attachment is said to have been formed when the infant begins to display signs of anxiety when separated with the caregiver. This phase usually occurs during the age of 7 to 8 months. Factors such as protection from predation and filial imprinting increase proximity. Protection from predation (protection of offspring from predatory or parasitic animals) is what parents do to protect their genes. “Several studies have shown that children approach their caregivers not only in response to dangerous external stimuli but also they do so to check the availability and attentiveness of the caregiver, and a sort of permanent monitoring activity” (Montuori & Garelli, 1997).
The fourth and final stage, identified by Bowlby, sees the anxiety caused by seperation fade as the child begins to understand the motives of its caregiver. This realization usually sets in at about the age of three.
One way to begin to uncover the components of the love between an infant and mother would be to place infants in situations where the mother does not provide for all the infants needs and where various components of the environment can be scientifically manipulated (Hock, 1999). Harlow constructed this situation not with humans, but with monkeys. Two wooden surrogate experimental mothers were built for the rhesus monkeys. One of the mothers was covered in sponge rubber and terry cloth and the other in wire mesh. The mothers were exactly the same (nursing breast, light bulb), except the wire mother wasnt able to provide contact comfort. Harlows experiments demonstrated the huge influence of contact comfort in producing an attachment between mother and infant. This factor is seen to be even more important than the ability for the mother to provide milk.
The evidence from the work of Bowlby and Harlow does seem to support the idea that an infant must have a stable attachment figure in early life (Harris, 1991). Bowlby states that continuous, warm and highly responsive care by one person is best for survival and emotional development. This is his view of the biologically natural pattern, but also the best pattern.
The Bonding Hypothesis suggested that there was a process of bonding [which] was thought to be instantaneous, automatic and irreversible. Bonding had to occur for optimal social and emotional functioning in the infants later life (Harris, 1991). The bonding was linked to the period of alertiveness observed in most infants and the hormonal surge found in the mother after delivery. However, the length of time needed for a successful early contact between mother and child was not established. Problems arose over the cross-section of ages and cultures when confronted with universal definitions of good or enhanced mothering. A child growing up needs a primary attachment figure that takes responsibility for its welfare. Normally the female biological parent adopts this role, but it seems that anyone could be able to take charge. Women lactate after they give birth. This would suggest that the biological mother is best equipped to feed the baby. The most suitable milk for a human child is breast-milk, the lowest era of containers is the breast (Harris, 1991). Harris suggests that breast-milk, although better for the infants digestive system and helpful in providing immunity against infection, is not a necessity for the infant. This statement is conditional since it is restricted to the affluent societies where adult literacy is high and people are able to buy and prepare the correct commercial milks. The attachment figure does not have to be the biological mother. Conclusive evidence collected by Schaffer and Emerson (1964) was drawn to support this claim. They found that the primary attachment figure could be fathers, grandparents and even older brothers or sisters. Women do not inherit the ability to care for infants, the skills are learned (Harris, 1991). Theoretically, an attachment figure could be any adult.
[Mary Ainsworth] She and her colleagues identified three types of attachment bond: secure attachment, avoidance attachment and ambivalent attachment (Louw & Edwards, 1997; Ainsworth, Blehar, Walters and Wall,1978). These attachment bonds characterized the childrens behaviour patterns in different situations. The experiments were done from behind one way panels, so that observations could take place without any interference. The patterns were examined through what were called strange situations. Attachment is divided into secure and insecure forms of attachment. Insecure attachment further subdivides itself into avoidance and ambivalent attachments. Children with a secure attachment bond are calm enough to play/explore their surroundings in their mothers presence, but become anxious when she leaves the room. Those with avoidance attachment, are not bothered by their mother leaving the room. They hardly even pay attention to their mother when she is present and avoid her when she returns. Ambivalent attachment is when children are anxious with or without their mothers in the room. They become distraught when she leaves but refuse any comforting when she returns. It was observed that babies who have stronger attachments with their mothers are more likely to leave their parents and explore. Babies that experience secure attachment are more likely to in their preschool years show more endurance, leadership and inquisitiveness. These effects are believed to carry through into adulthood. Similarly, the negative effects of insecure attachment result in such difficulties in interpersonal relationships and anxiety disorders (Louw & Edwards, 1997; Routh & Bernholtz, 1991; Bowlby, 1969). Ainsworth conducted two studies. One of 28 infants in Kampala, Uganda and another 10 years later of 26 dyad infants in Baltimore. Obvious differences gave the study some range with which to work. However, it seems that the attachment behaviours previously identified were essentially identical in the Baltimore sample, and so were the phases of development. This supported Bowlbys claim for an evolutionary, genetic bias for human infants to become attached to their principal caregivers (Ainsworth, 1985). This reinforces Bowlbys four transition phases of the infant.
This essay attempted, through the use of evidence obtained from the prescribed readings and course textbooks, to answer the proposed questions relating to attachment. Attachment as a concept was given meaning. The procedures used to assess the security of attachment were outlined. The main theories and research findings, backing the importance of early attachment for later socio-emotional development, were discussed and evaluated.