Outline and evaluate one theory of attachment (12 marks) Bowlby’s theory is an evolutionary theory because, in his view attachment is a behavioural system that has evolved because of its survival value and, ultimately, its reproductive value. According to Bowlby, children have an innate drive to become attached to a caregiver because attachment has long-term benefits. Both attachment and imprinting ensure that a young animal stays close to a caregiver who will feed and protect the young animal.
Thus attachment and imprinting are adaptive behaviours. Infants who do not become attached are less likely to survive and reproduce. Attachment ‘genes’ are perpetuated, and infants are born with an innate drive to become attached. Since attachment is innate, there is likely to be a limited window for its development i. e. a critical or sensitive period. Development of all biological systems takes place most rapidly and easily during a critical period. Bowlby applied the concept of a sensitive period to attachment.
He suggested that the second quarter of the first year is when infants are most sensitive to the development of attachments. The drive to provide caregiving is also innate because it is adaptive (i. e. enhances survival of one’s offspring). Infants are born with certain characteristics, called social releasers, which elicit caregiving. The social releasers include smiling and crying. Another social releaser is a baby’s face. Attachment is the innate behavioural system in babies; caregiving is the response in adults. Both provide protection and thereby enhance survival.
The formation of attachments depends on the interaction of these systems. Attachment is important for protection, and thus acts as a secure base from which a child can explore the world and a safe haven to return to when threatened. Thus attachment fosters independence. Bowlby also believed that infants form a number of attachments but one of these has special importance. The bias towards on individual, the primary attachment, is called monotropy. Infants also have other secondary attachment figures that form a hierarchy of attachments.
The one special attachment is most usually an infant’s mother. Bowlby believe that sensitive responsiveness was the key – an infant become most strongly attached to the person who responds most sensitively to the infant’s social releasers (the ‘sensitivity’ hypothesis). This person become the infants primary attachment figure, providing the main foundation for emotional development, self-esteem and later relationships with peers, lovers and one’s own children. Attachment starts as the relationship between a caregiver and infant.
This relationship may be one of trust or of uncertainty and inconsistency, and creates expectations about what all relationships will be like. Gradually the infant develops a model about emotional relationships: Bowlby called this an internal working model. This model is a cluster of concepts about relationships and what to expect from others – about whether relationships involve consistent or inconsistent love, whether others make you feel good or anxious, and so on. The internal working model means there is consistency between early emotional experiences and later relationships.
This leads to the continuity hypothesis – the view that there is a link between the early attachment relationship and later emotional behaviour; individuals who are securely attached in infancy continue to be socially and emotionally competent, whereas insecurely attached children have more social and emotional difficulties late in childhood and adulthood. The research by Lorenz supports the view that imprinting is innate because the goslings imprinted on the first moving object they saw. A similar process is likely to have evolved in many species as a mechanism to protect young animals and enhance the likelihood of their survival.
If attachments fail to develop, the conclusion from research appears to be that once the sensitive period has passed it is difficult to form attachments. For example, Hodges and Tizard found that children who had formed no attachments had later difficulties with peers. If attachment did evolve, as Bowlby suggests, to provide an important biological function, then we would expect attachment and care giving behaviours to be universal i. e. found in all cultures. Tronick et al. (1992) studied an African tribe, the Efe, from Zaire, who live in extended family groups.
The infants are looked after and even breastfed by different women but usually sleep with their own mother at night. Despite such differences in childrearing practices the infants, at six months, still showed one primary attachment. This supports the view that attachment and caregiving are universal and not influenced by different cultural practices. Many psychologists have criticised Bowlby’s ideas regarding montropy and argued that the babies’ attachment to the first attachment figure is not necessarily special or unique.
Schaffer and Emerson’s longitudinal study of 60 Glasgow babies found that multiple attachments seemed to be the norm for babies rather than the exception – at the age of 18 months 87% of babies had multiple attachments. Schaffer and Emerson also found that the strongest bond was not necessarily to the mother as Bowlby had implied. At 18 moths, only half of the samples were strongly attached to their mothers and about a third were strongly attached to their fathers.
Bowlby’s ideas about the importance of attachments have produced substantial amount of research. Most evidence suggests that early attachment experiences can have an influenced on later adult relationships. However, it is important not to overestimate this influence and to consider other factors such as later life events, which influence adult relationships. Bowlby’s idea regarding monotropy has been challenged and evidence supports the view that multiple attachments may be the rule rather than single and unique attachments.
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