john bowlbys theory of attachment

John Bowlby was a psychoanalyst and has developed his knowledge and understanding into the theory of Attachment. Bowlby believed that children have been born programmed to form attachments which will help them survive; this is known as evolutionary attachments. Bowlby believed that all attachments are instinctive, he said that attachments are shown when the child is under conditions of feeling threatened, such as: separation, fear and insecurity.

In 1969 and 1988 Bowlby suggested that fear of strangers was an important survival mechanism; he said that babies display natural behaviours, such as: crying, laughing, smiling and crawling, this ensures the baby to feel in close contact with the mother. Attachment is an emotional bond between two people and takes time to connect. Attachment doesn’t have to be a mutual feeling as an individual can feel attached, but the recipient may not feel the same. Attachment is displayed with different behaviours, usually shown when feeling upset and threatened.

The theory of attachment has been considered to enhance children’s chances of survival. Shaffer and Emmerson have also expanded on Bowlby’s theory breaking down the theory into stages. The stages are ‘Indiscriminate attachment, preference for certain people, special preference for a single attachment figure, multiple attachments. ’ Indiscriminate attachment occurs to babies up to 3 months, the baby equally responds to any caregiver and is inclined to attach to any human.

The stage of ‘preference for certain people’ usually occurs after 4 months as they learn to distinguish their prime carers to their secondary carers. At 7 months ‘Special preference for a single attachment figure’ begins to occur, which is where the baby seeks for particular people. At this stage the baby shows unhappiness when separated from a carer. The stage of ‘Multiple attachments’ the baby is able to form multiple attachments with people. These stages where identified from a study carried out on 60 babies during the first 18 months of their lives.

Over the 18 months Shaffer and Emmerson visited the babies and observed their attachments/interaction with their carers, as well as an interview with the carers. From the study Shaffer and Emmerson identified that attachments were made with those who respond to the baby’s needs, and not the person they have spent the most time with; this is called sensitive responsiveness. By the age of 10 months the baby’s had formed several attachments, the prime being the mother and father. In 1958 an experiment by ‘Harry Harlow’ was carried out and used as evidence to attachment.

Harlow began his experiments on monkeys; he carried out research and studies for his preparation. The experiment was intended to see how monkeys cope with attachment and the consequences of not forming attachments. The first experiment was ‘Infant monkeys reared in isolation;’ consequently many of the monkeys died and performed abnormal behaviour; the monkeys could not interact with each other, even when they were older. The second experiment was carried out, ‘Infant monkeys reared with surrogate mothers. In this experiment two kinds of mothers were made, bare wired mother with a bottle and wired mothers covered in a towel. The results of the experiment were that the monkeys spent almost most of their time with the towel mother and only went to the bottle mother when they were hungry; when the monkey had finished feeding, he returned back to his towel mother. Also it appeared that the monkeys were more explorative when the towel mother was present and fear was shown when she was taken away. This supports evolutionary theory of attachment. Harlow’s work has been criticized.

His experiments have been seen as unnecessarily cruel (unethical) and of limited value in attempting to understand the effects of deprivation on human infants. Attachment is believed to be crucial between the ages 0-5 years, if a child has not formed an attachment during this period; an ‘attachment disorder’ could be developed. This could occur due to the child frequently changing caregivers, excessive amount of caregivers, lack of caregivers and caregivers being unresponsive to the child. Children with attachment disorders will have a lack of self-esteem and trust, and will fears forming a bond with people.

Attachment disorder will most likely to result in emotional and behavioural problems, such as: a child displaying aggressive behaviour to attract negative attention. It is also said that child suffering Mary Ainsworth, a psychologist, was most famous for her research and explanations of the differences between attachments. Mary Ainsworth made an assessment called ‘Strange Situations Classification;’ this was used to investigate how attachments vary. This assessment was used to observe the variety of attachment forms displayed between mothers and their child.

The assessment is set up in a small room with one way glass so the behaviour of the infant can be observed. Infants were aged between 12 and 18 months. The sample comprised about 100 middle class American families. The assessment was observed for seven, three minute episodes, which are: 1) Parent and infant alone. 2) Stranger joins parent and infant. 3) Parent leaves infant and stranger alone. 4) Parent returns and stranger leaves. 5) Parent leaves; infant left completely alone. 6) Stranger returns. 7) Parent returns and stranger leaves.

During these episodes the child was observed for: separation anxiety, the infants’ willingness to explore, stranger anxiety and reunion behaviour. Mary Ainsworth identified 3 main attachments a child and mother showed. These were secure attachment, ambivalent attachment and avoidant attachment. Secure attachment: This is where the child has a strong attachment with the caregiver; they are soothed by the caregiver and become distressed when left with strangers. The child also is also shows more willingness to explore the environment and shows happiness when reunited with caregiver.

Ambivalent attachment: This is where the child has an attachment but shows uncertainty towards their caregiver, as they become resistant to their affection, for example: pushing them away. However, the child show signs of distress when the mother leaves the room. The child is less likely to explore the surrounding and cries more than any other attachment theory. Avoidant attachment: This is where the child is not fussed about the mothers presence; they show no signs of distress when the mother leaves. When the mother returns, the child shows no signs of interest.

The child is confident to talk to strangers and acts normal with the strangers’ presence. Mary Ainsworth concluded her assessments by coming to the conclusion that children with a secure attachment have had sensitive and responsive care; children with an ambivalent attachment have had inconsistent care and children with an avoidant care have had unresponsive care. Mary Ainsworth research was the first piece of research used as evidence to support John Bowlby’s theory of attachment. http://www. personalityresearch. org/papers/lee. html There are many arguments for and against these theories of attachment.

One argument against is from a theorist, Harris, 1998. Harris criticises attachment theory as he believes there is too much emphasis on the role of carers. Harris believes that carers cannot make a child’s personality, even if child forms a secure attachment with caregivers. He believes that if children have a secure attachment they may still be challenging as he believes peers are the biggest influence on children. For example, if a child has been brought up with kind, well-mannered parents but hangs around with rude, unwell-spoken peers then the child is more likely to be influenced by the peers than the parent as they want to fit in.

I also agree with this argument because a child in my nursery copies the behaviour of a group children; by throwing objects around and calling a girl names but when alone behave in the same way as they would at home, using manners and being kind. I also agree with the attachment theory as I believe children who have been brought up well, within a secure attachment usually are well influenced to make other secure attachments through their lives. Children who have been in an avoidant attachment are usually influenced to be resentful to other attachments throughout their lives.

For example a child at placement is avoidant to his mother and avoidant to most children and staff. I believe it is a duty of the caregivers to show the children a good role model by having a secure attachment. If caregivers have an avoidant attachment this is showing the child the wrong form of attachment. However some attachments are not caused by the parent as I have a family member who has been brought up in a secure attachment but unfortunately has ADHD which causes him to be avoidant to attachments. Evidence to support this theory is the crime rates these days.

Many of the crimes that are carried out such as: theft, drugs, vandalism are committed by teenagers with a poor up bring. This might be because they have always had an avoidant relationship and are just seeking attention. Also people who have been brought up in a secure attachment are more likely to follow education and a career as they have been supported and shown the right routes. I think the attachment theory is a very reliable theory, with easy assessments in order to identify the attachments. Attachment theory has been well-developed with a range of evidence to support it.

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