Attachment theory Unit




The Attachment theory is of the major psychological theories relatedto one of the strongest human emotional bonds. The theory has beenaround for some time and has been applied to explain relationshipsthat people form in life as predetermined by their relationships atthe early stages of life. The main concept around the theory is thatinfants develop secure attachment to parents who respond positivelyto their needs while lack of such positive responsiveness leads toinsecure attachment. This background thus forms the foundation uponwhich a person’s character is built throughout his life untildeath. Thus the theory provides a strong framework for understandinglove, loneliness, and grief in adults as mental models developed fromthe attachment levels experienced during their infancy.

The attachment theory was developed by two established psychologists,John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, after years of research. The tworesearchers, who worked separately in the initial stages, wereinspired by the early ideas of Sigmund Freud and Lev Vygotsky andother concepts from ethology, cybernetics, information processing,developmental psychology, and psychoanalysts to develop what is nowknown as the attachment theory (Duchesne &amp Ratelle, 2014 Main,Kaplan, &amp Cassidy, 1985). Thus, the theory basically asserts thatthe type of relationship a child has with the mother determines howhe/she interacts with other people in later stages of life.

Therefore, parents have a very significant role in shaping the futureof their children through how they relate with them under culturalcontexts. In most cultures, both traditional and modern, mothers areexpected to form the most complex relationship with infants ascaregivers (Loweinstein, 2010). For instance, among the Chinesepeople, mothers are expected to provide security, food, protection,warmth to children as a way of helping children “establish positiveinternal working model of the self, which therefore reducessubsequent internalizing problems such as depression” (Li et al.,p. 160). Thus, it is the early perceptions of attachments to parentsthat infants use to later develop ways of relating with others.According to Bolwby’s initial studies involving children, there arefour basic types of attachment styles: secure, avoidant,resistant/ambivalent and disorganized.

Secure attachmentstyle

Secure attachment is most desirable one. It is considered the mostacceptable and normal path of human development which also happens tobe the most prevent in 65% of cases (Zeanah, Berlin, Boris, 2011). Asecure attachment to the mother for a child develops only if themother is able to attune, regulate and respond positively to aninfant (Snyder, Shapiro &amp Treleaven 2011). However, mothers orparents in general might not be a positioned to respond positively toan infant’s needs due to a number of factors such as stress anddepression. Most importantly, parent of primary care givers arecalled into action in terms of responsiveness when infants experiencedistress anxiety of fear (Duchesne &amp Ratelle, 2014). However,parents should be considerate and mindful of what theirresponsiveness means to their children. This mindfulness according to(Synder, Shapiro, &amp Treleaven, 2012) refer to parents beingfully aware of the impact of their responsiveness to infant and canbe taught to new mothers during pregnancy and after birth in order toprotect future generations and ensure better child-parent relationsin the future.

In support of mindfulness is the concept of autobiographical memoryof traumatic events. This relates to the idea that the failure ofparents to respond positively to their infants shall not be lost.Studies have revealed that children rely on memories of particularevents in their childhood to form images of self and others(Melinder, Baugerud, Ovestad, &amp Goodman, 2013). Li and colleagues(2015) refer to this approach as self-control whereby caregiversover-ride the inner responses and impulses to respond to undesiredbehaviors from children and instead replace them with them withpositive supportive responses.

Thus children who can recall positive attachment events in theirchildhood are more likely to o internalize and externalize positiveattachment later in life (Zeanah, Berlin &amp Boris 2011).Furthermore, the display of positive attachment style is more likelyto change with age. For instance, in the first and second months,infants are unable to express their preferences well due tobiophysical limitations. By seven months, they can engage in socialinteraction and express preferences well. By 9 moths they adaptselective attachment. However, past three years, behavioralmanifestations of attachment reduce and are only visible by employingvarious methods of observation. Nonetheless, what is assumed to bepositive attachment, either in behavior or observation may varyacross cultures main because different cultures provide differentcognitive scripts which infants use to interpret caregiver’sresponsiveness (Waters, Bosmans, Vandevivere, Dujardin, &amp Waters,2015).

Ideally, the attachment theory assumes that the primary caregiverorganizes an infant’s secure based behavior. This assumptionignores the idea that taking care of infants and babies varies acrosscultures. For instance, among the Aboriginals, taking care of infantsis a communal issue and thus separation of mother from her infantsdoes not reflect the provisions of the attachment theory. Therefore,examine a child’s attachment behavior though the strange situationexperiment gives inconsistent results (Neckowaya, Brownleea, &ampCastellan, 2007). In other cultures, fathers can be involved indifferent levels (Newlands, &amp Coyl, 2010). Similar culturalvariations have been reported in Colombia where the link between caregivers positive responsiveness and the child development and behavioras product of western ideology not applicable in other culturalcontexts (Posada, Carbonell, Alzate, Plata, 2004).

Away from culture, infants who are nurtured under positivesresponsiveness from care givers display certain behaviors uponseparation. They are more likely to resist separation from caregivers regardless of the fact whether the separation is meant toprotect the infants. They are also more likely to actively seekcomfort and seek resolution of distress mostly by actively embracingthe reunion with caregiver (Zeanah, Berlin, &amp Boris, 2011). Evenwhen it is necessary, research indicates that removing children fromtheir homes interferes with their development. The more traumatic theseparation is, the more likely there will be significant negativedevelopmental consequences.

The Avoidant-anxiousattachment

The Avoidant-anxious attachment style as posited by theattachment theory involves infants avoiding their parents. Regardingdistress, parental attachment anxiety significantly predictedchildren’s distress during less stressful phases of the removal.Apparently, a distress response becomes more easily evoked inattachment threatening situations for children of more rather thanless anxiously attached parents. This pattern is reminiscent of thegreater distress shown by anxiously attached infants in the strangesituation resistant/ambivalent (Melinder et al. 131). In most cases,the avoidant behavior in these infants is a defense mechanism tomodule and tone down intense emotional attachments. Such situationsare likely to be observed infants in the western cultures wheremothers are most likely to be employed and thus spend lesser timewith their infants.

According to Zeanah Berlin, and Boris (2011), infants who displayavoidant attachment style when exposed to strange situations arelikely to ignore their parents. These infants are unlikely to seekcomfort from their care givers in case of distress. When separatedfrom the caregiver, they are not keen on reunion. However, the levelof exploration many diminish. Ideally, the infants intuitively get topick up the impression that their caregivers are not willing or donot have time to interact and indulge them which is manifested inlater stages of life as a sense of emptiness (Michels, Grietens,Onghena, Kuppens, 2008).

Infants who have experienced this attachment style in their earlyyears are more likely to develop behavioral problems in theiradolescent years and even later. In most cases, these individuals arenot keen on establishing close relationships with their peers or evenromantic partners. They are more likely to experience trouble inschool and engage in delinquent behavior in their teenage years in anattempt to fill the empty space they feel within them (Cortazar &ampHeerreros, 2010). In some cases, they are thought to engage inmultiple sexual relations early in their teens as an attempt toaddress the sense of emptiness they feel inside.

More specifically, peer relationships among adults who haveexperienced an insecure parental attachment are characterized bydetachment negative interactive emotions and behaviors such aswithdrawal (Michiels, Grietens Onghena &amp Kuppens, 2008). Theseindividuals express a higher desire for independence from otherpeople and are not willing to trust others or place themselves in anyvulnerable situations. They are more likely to have unfulfillingmarriages that are more likely to end up in divorce as compared toadults who have experienced secure attachment in their childhood.

Recent studies have also revealed that the avoidant-anxiousattachment experience is manifested adults in non-romanticrelationships such as in organization. This gives the attachmenttheory a wide scope in that that theory can also be used workplacerelations and even leadership attributes. In the case of avoidantanxious attachment, such employees through a research by Richards andSchat (2011) revealed attachment avoidance is “associated withlower levels of instrumental and emotional support seeking andgreater use of surface acting as a means of regulating emotionaldisplays” (p. 178). This is likely to mean that such employees relikely to fall on their term members or their supervisor for any workrelated support.

Ambivalent/anxiousor resistant

This style of attachment among infants is created by care giversinconsistent and unpredictable unavailable attachment. Byinconsistent, the caregivers may at times be well attuned andpositively response to their infants needs while at other times theyare unresponsive or respond negatively. The caregiver may also engagein intrusive behavior leaving the infant confused about the wholesituation (Posada, Carbonell, Alzate, &amp Plata, 2004). Suchinfants are likely to respond through intense distress induced byseparation and their active attempts to find conform are limited.Furthermore, when exposed to strange situations such infants arelikely to register little or incomplete resolution of distress onreunion and are likely to be resistant to caregivers attempt tosoothe (Zeanah Berlin, &amp Boris 2011). Such behave is manifestedlater in life and in adulthood in different ways.

Children who have been exposed to this type of attachment style arelikely to display anxiety and insecurity later in life. As olderchildren they tend to be very suspicious and distrustful while at thesame showing signs of being desperate. They are very vigilant aboutthe attention they get from their parents or people close to them(Thompson, 2008). Their behavior thus oscillates from the extreme ofbeing too clingy and desperate to that of angry rejection of theirparents care giver of peers. At school, they are desperate to beteacher’s favorite or the favorite in class but can turndisrespectful and angry when they do not get what they desire.

As for adults, such attachment behavior in manifested in numerousways. One such noted way pertains to manipulation to gain attentionof others. This desires for closeness is likely to be a means toanother hidden desire mostly to monitor and supervise their targets.They worry so much that the relationship might not last because theyfeel the other party is not as attached as they are (Van Dries,Juffers, van Ijzendroorn, Bakermans-Kraneburg &amp Alink, 2012).However, these relationships do not last long as they tend tosabotage them in order to create distance. Where they do not initiaterelationship breakdown or even after initiating them, they are leftdistraught and their behavior is unpredictable. They are likely touse drugs and other substances in attempts to manage anxiety.

In the work places, they are more likely to move from one job toanother. They are always worried that their contribution to theorganization or performance is constantly under review. They may alsobe too hard on themselves and often times downplay their achievementsas a way to be superficially charming. Nonetheless, they can beharmful to the organizational environment through their manipulativebehavior intended to achieve their objectives and even if it meanssabotaging workplace relations and projects (Goldsmith, Oppenheim, &ampWanlass, 2004). Again, their anxiety and worrying too much means thatthey are less likely to delegate tasks and decision managing in theworkplace.


This type of attachment behavior is present where parents orcaregivers’ responsiveness to the infant is strange, frightening ortraumatizing. When exposed to the strange situation, such infants’response to reunion may exhibit anomalous reactions characterized bymixtures of hasty, disjointed sequences of proximity-seeking behaviorand sometimes resisting or avoiding or even being fearful of theparent (Lac, Crano, Berger, &amp Alvaro, 2013). In short, thebehavior of these children towards their parents does not follow aparticular pattern but is all over the place.

As older children and adults, their behavior is manifested indifferent ways. At the minimum, they are unpredictable, chaotic,insensitive, explosive and abusive in their relationship andinteractions with other people and peers. For this reason, they arelikely to be lonely and can hardly maintain long term relationships.As teenagers, they are more likely to engage in altercations and evenengaged in delinquent behavior (Ontai &amp Thompson, 2008). In mostcases, they are poor performers academically and in other areas.

As adults, these individuals display a barrage of vices. They arelikely to steal from others and lie and cheat to get what they want.They are more likely to engage in alcoholism and drug use as theyfeel that they have little to offer in this world. As ofrelationships, they are unlikely to engage in healthy workplace placerelationships or even romantic ones . Where they make attempts atromantic relationships, they are not stable.

From the above discussion about the attachment theory as developed byBolwby and Ainswroth, it is clear to see that the theory faces somemajor challenges. One of the most prominent challenge as highlightedin the paper pertains to the cross cultural applicability of thetheory. Several research studies in various cultures have dismissedthe provisions of this theory in the context of non-western cultures.Among the Aboriginals and Cambodians, the theory is inconsistent dueto cultural variations. In spite of such challenges, the attachmenttheory has made immense contributions in understanding adultrelationships, both intimate and professional ones (Cassidy, Jones, J&amp Shaver, 2013). Therefore, the author can predict that in thenear future, the attachment theory shall be more widely applied inpredicting personality behavior and the organization of relationshipdevelop. This is based on the fact that the theory as it is currentlypredicts the behavior of adults based on their attachment experiencesas infants.


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