III. Attachment Theory (developed by John Bowlby) – Chapter 6 (2 of 2)
Attachment theory is revealed in Bowlby’s famous trilogy (three books) entitled Attachment (1969),
Separation (1973), and Loss (1980).
A. Overview of Attachment Theory
Bowlby viewed attachment behaviours as evolutionary behaviours, that is behaviours primarily
designed to ensure an infant’s survival.According to Bowlby, instinctual behaviours such as sucking,
clinging, following, crying and smiling serve a survival purpose; in Bowlby’s view, these instinctual
behaviours bring infants and primary attachment figures closer together, which indirectly protects infants
from predators, falls, and harmful accidents, which may threaten an infant’s survival. In addition, these
instinctual behaviours ensure that infants will have opportunities to closely observe, imitate, and practice
with guidance the species-specific survival behaviours that primary attachment figures have already
In support of attachment’s evolutionary foundation, Bowlby demonstrated how an infant’s
instinctual behaviours would become uncontrollably activated by loud noises, the sudden appearance of
stranger people, strange animals, or strange objects, and parental separation.All of these situations
potentially threaten infant safety/survival, thus Bowlby felt that only an evolutionary theory could explain
why these particular stimuli trigger such an immediate and uncontrollable response by an infant. In
addition, Bowlby noticed that these instinctual infant behaviours were easily activated when infants
experienced fatigue, illness, or pain, that is, when additional care is required.
U.C.S. U.C.R. (unlearned, instinctual)
- loud noises - seek proximity to caregivers
- strange people, toys, animals - closeness
- caregiver leaves
B. Main Ideas Advanced byAttachment Theory /Assumptions
1. There is a sensitive period for attachment formation. (See reactive attachment disorder – IQ Ch. 6 #1b)
2. Attachment formation is not complete at birth. It unfolds over time. Bowlby described FOUR phases in
the attachment formation process.
Age Phase Nature of Phase
1 Infants use their reflexes and other built-in ‘signaling’behaviours to induce
“Non- caregivers or potential attachment figures to come closer (i.e., maintain
focused proximity) and provide physical contact.
0-3 months orienting According to Bowlby, attachment between parent and child has not
signaling” occurred in the first three months of life because infants do not direct their
proximity-promoting behaviours to anyone caregiver in particular.
“Focus on Infants begin to narrow proximity-promoting behaviours (referred to as
3-6 months one or more ‘come here’behaviours) to a particular attachment figure. However,
attachment is still not fully formed in this phase as proximity-promoting is
figures” necessary but insufficient evidence of attachment.
Infants begin to display proximity-seeking behaviours (active or goal-
6 to 24 directed behaviour – referred to as ‘go there’behaviours) to a particular
months “Secure attachment figure in times of perceived stress. That is, infants will actively
base seek out their secure base (attachment figure) in times of perceived stress.
Attachment behaviour” According to Bowlby, infants’use of proximity-seeking behaviours clearly
is formed demonstrates an attachment is formed and who it is formed with thus true
attachment has now emerged.
Children have now internalized the interactions they have experienced
with their attachment figure(s) into their internal model. The internal
model consists of two separate but related parts: the self-model (+ve or –
ve) and the other-model (+ve or –ve). Thus attachment affects how we
perceive our SELF and how we interact with OTHERS because the early
24 months “Internal experiences we have with our primary attachment figure are internalized in
and beyond model” our internal working model. These internalized notions of our self and of
others appear to be quite stable over time. That is, early experiences affect
our self-esteem, self-efficacy, peer relationships, intimate relationships,
and how we parent our own children.
- Relationship between earlier experiences and later
- What long term effects it has
C. Major Concepts
1. Proximity-promoting – Used exclusively in phase 1 & 2 of attachment formation and declines in use
afterwards (though never disappears). Proximity-promoting behaviours are used to signal or cue
attachment figures to ‘come here’. Crying is the dominant proximity-promoting behaviour though
smiling and clinging/snuggling/cuddling as also examples that infants (and older children/adults) use.
2. Proximity-seeking – In phase 3 of attachment formation, infants shift from exclusively using proximity-
promoting behaviours to using proximity-seeking or ‘go there’ behaviours as well. Proximity-seeking
means that individuals actively seek proximity (closeness) to attachment figures on their own accord.
For instance, crawling or walking towards the attachment figures in times of perceived stress to seek
reassurance or following their attachment figure around the house.
3. Internal Models (sometimes referred to as internal working models) – IWMs are mental
representations constructed from the interactional patterns between individuals and their primary
2 Based on experiences with attachment figures, internal models consist of two parts:
An individual’s “self-model” is similar to his/her self-worth (i.e., our self-esteem).According to Bowlby,
our self-model emerges from the care and affection we receive from others (particularly our attachment
“Other-models” are defined as how we view/perceive other people (i.e., our expectations in social
relationships). For example, do we generally perceive others to be available, accepting, and responsive to
our emotional needs or do we anticipate that others will be unreliably, or cold, harsh, and critical?
Over time, internal models direct and limit what information we process about ourselves and other
people. Thus, internal models influence our perception, attention, encoding, and memory. Positive
internal models are consistent with open, flexible and non-defensive processing of information, whereas
negative internal models involve rigid processing of information, in a way that often distorts information
(misperceptions) and involves regular use of several defense mechanisms.
According to Bowlby, internal models are rudimentarily formed by 2 years of life; however, they
become more elaborate, stable, and resistant to change by 4-5 years olds.
4. Stranger anxiety –fear of strangers. It can be observed when infants cry or cling to attachment figures
in the presence of strangers. Stranger anxiety is rare before 6 months of age and it increases in frequency
until 12-16 months then declines.
5. Separation anxiety – fear of separation from primary caregivers. It is arguably the most anxiety-
provoking situation for infants. Like stranger anxiety, it is rare before 6 months and increases in
frequency until 12-16 months then declines. It typically lasts longer than stranger anxiety.
6. Social referencing – This attachment-related behavior typically emerges around 10 months of age. It
occurs when infants look to their attachment figure’s facial expressions to help them figure out how to
interpret novel situations. Thus social referencing helps infants regulate their emotions. Social
referencing can be interpreted as a specific type of observational learning (Bandura) – that is, social
referencing may explain in part how emotions are learned.
Co-regulation of emotions (infants) self-regulation of emotions (children)
IV. Measuring Infants’Attachment (MaryAinsworth) – Research to validate Attachment Theory
• Ainsworth (researcher) was hired by Bowlby (theorist) (newspaper advertisement) to empirically test
his theoretical ideas
3 - What parent-infant interactions lead to secure/insecure attachment?
• Initially, Ainsworth naturalistically observed interactional patterns between infants and primary attachment
figures inAfrica (Uganda), which were published in her book entitled Infancy in Uganda.
- The effect of brief separation on attachment
- Child rejecting mother because they left (e.g. hospital, daycare)
- Security redevelops over time
- Weaning process (for breastfeeding)
- Involved caregiver leaving the infant for ~ 2 weeks (evidence of withdrawal)
• When she returned to the U.S.A. (Baltimore), she continued to conduct naturalistic studies to gain a greater
understanding of the interactional patterns that lead to secure and insecure attachment formation. Her
findings are summarized in what is known as the Baltimore Studies.
- Coding behaviours – what parents do, child responds
- Key findings: interactions that lead to secure attachment
o High level of physical contact – skin-to-skin, face-to-face, co-sleeping, sling
o Quickly responding to infant cues/signals (proximity-promoting) for reassurance – crying
o Allowing infants to set time/place of breastfeeding – “every 4 hours”, etc.
Attachment Parenting by Dr. Sears
• Finally, to scientifically investigate the effects of attachment quality on child development,Ainsworth
needed to devise a laboratory test of attachment. The name of the lab procedure she developed was the
Strange Situation method. The table below