The attachment theory of John Bowlby

The attachment theory of John Bowlby

John Bowlby (1907-1990) was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who thought that mental health and behavior problems could be related to early childhood.John Bowlby's attachment theory suggests that children are born by being programmed to connect with others. It will help them survive.

Bowlby was extremely influenced by ethological theory in general, but especially by the study of the behavior led by Konrad Lorenz. In the 1950s, in a study with ducks and geese, he showed that attachment was innate. Therefore, it has a survival value.

Bowlby believed that attachment behaviors were instinctiveand that they were active in cases where proximity was not reached: cases of separation, insecurity and fear.

John Bowlby's Attachment Theory states that children are biologically programmed to connect with others.

Innate Behaviors for Survival

Bowlby also stated that fear of strangers represents a significant survival mechanism, incorporated by nature.According to him, babies are born with the tendency to display certain innate behaviors (social liberators) that help to ensure closeness and contact with the mother or the figure of attachment.

Throughout the evolution of the human species, babies who have remained close to their mothers would have survived to have their own children. Bowlby posited the hypothesis thatbabies and mothers would have developed a biological need to maintain contact with each other.

These attachment behaviors initially work as fixed action patterns. All have the same function.The baby produces innate "social liberation" behaviors, such as crying and smiling, that stimulate the attention of adults.The determining factor of attachment is not food but attention and responsiveness.

Essentials of John Bowlby's Attachment Theory

After the Second World War, orphans and homeless children presented many difficulties. The United Nations (UN) asked John Bowlby to write a text on this subject. This text was entitled "maternal deprivation". The theory of attachment arises from the questions raised during the elaboration of this work.

The attachment theory of John Bowlbyis an interdisciplinary study that includes the fields of psychological, evolutionary and ethological theories.Here are his main ideas:

  1. A child has the innate need to unite with a main attachment figure (monotropy)

Although he did not dismiss other figures of attachment for a child,Bowlby thought that there was a primary bond much more important than any other (usually with the mother).

According to him, this link is qualitatively different from those that will follow.The relationship with the mother is, in a way, completely different from other relationships.

Bowlby suggested that the nature of monotropy (conceptualized attachment as a vital link to one person) meant one thing:if the maternal connection did not exist or if it broke, serious consequences would occur.This would possibly include psychopathy without affect. Bowlby's theory of monotropy led him to formulate his hypothesis of maternal deprivation.

The child behaves in a certain way to establish contact or proximity with the caregiver.When he feels more excitement, this person perceives it. Crying, smiling and locomotion are examples of these signaling behaviors. Instinctively, adults respond to the behavior of their dependent children by creating a pattern of mutual interaction.

2. A child must receive continued attention from the most important attachment figure in the early years of his life

Bowlby said motherhood is almost useless if it only happens after two and a half or three years. What's more, for the majority of children, if it happens after 12 months, we are facing a critical period.

If attachment breaks down or breaks down during the critical two-year period, the child will have irreversible consequences in the long run.This risk continues until the age of five.

Bowlby used the term maternal deprivation to refer to the separation or loss of the mother, as well as the lack of development of an attachment figure.

The underlying assumption of Bowlby's maternal deprivation hypothesis is thatContinued interruption of the primary bond could lead to long-term cognitive, social and emotional difficulties.The implications are huge.For example, if this is true, should parents leave their child in day care?

The long-term consequences of maternal deprivation may include delinquency, reduced intelligence, increased aggression, depression, and unaffected psychopathy. Psychopathy without affect is the inability to show affection or empathy towards others. These individuals act impulsively, without thinking of the consequences of their actions. For example, without displaying guilt after antisocial behavior.

3. The short-term separation of an attachment figure causes anxiety

Anxiety goes through three progressive stages:protest, despair and detachment.

  • Protest:The child cries, screams and gets angry when the attachment figure goes away. He tries to hold on to her so that she does not leave.
  • Despair:The protests of the child begin to fade and seem to be weaker, even if they still exist. The child seems disinterested.
  • Detachment:If the separation continues, the child will start interacting with new people. He will reject the person on his return and show signs of anger.

4. The attachment relationship of the child with the main tutor leads to the development of an internal work model

The internal work model is a cognitive framework that includes mental representations to understand the world, the self, and others.The interaction of a person with others is guided by memories and expectations of his inner model that have an influence and help to evaluate his contact with others.

At age three, the internal model seems to be transformed into a part of a child's personality. As a result, it affects one's understanding of the world and future interactions with others. According to Bowlby,the main attachment figure acts as a prototype for future relationships through the internal work model.

John Bowlby's attachment theory includes the fields of psychological, evolutionary and ethicological theories.

Do mothers only need to look after their children when they are young?

One of the main criticisms that Bowlby's attachment theory has received is related to the direct implication it implies. Do mothers only need to look after their children when they are young?

Weisner and Gallimore (1977) explain thatmothers are exclusive tutors in a very small part of human societies.In fact, there are often many people involved in caring for children.

Van Ijzendoorn and Tavecchio (1987) argue thata stable network of adults can provide adequate attention and that this attention may even have advantageson a system in which a mother must meet all the needs of a child.

Schaffer (1990) explainsthat there is evidence that children develop better with a mother who is happy in her jobonly with a mother who is frustrated to stay at home.

John Bowlby's theory of attachment does not, therefore, invoke the exclusivity of a mother in the education of the young.During the first stage of life, however, it is essential that a primary figure exists and offers the necessary care and attention to the child.This will help create a bond that will help the baby to fully develop.

Secure attachment: the strength of a healthy bond

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