Infant Attachment Theories

The English psychiatrist John Bowlby (19071990) introduced the term attachment into psychology and psychiatry, even though Sigmund Freud laid the foundation for theoretical "attachment concepts" by suggesting the cathexis (i.e., an "investment" or "holding") of libidinal energy onto a "love object" in order to establish an emotional connection for behavioral stability and organization. Bowlby argued that attachment is an expression of the biology of a species that is exhibited by species-specific behaviors (such as sucking, crying, smiling, clinging, and following responses) that occur at different ages and are focused on the infant's mother. Theories of infant attachment have appeared as subtheo-ries and supporting concepts in ethological theory, psychoanalytic theory, and learning theory. In the area of ethology (the study of animal behavior), lasting attachments are created via the imprinting phenomenon or process whereby a newborn organism "attaches" itself to the first moving object, usually the parent (e.g., by exhibiting following behavior), it sees shortly after birth during a critical period. Thus, ethological theory - in particular, as proposed by the Austrian zoologist Konrad Z. Lorenz (1903-1989) - assumes that genetically programmed behaviors (via a hypothetical "hard-wired" device in the animals' central nervous system, called an innate-releasing mechanism, that causes a "sign stimulus" or "releaser" to elicit a fixed-action behavior pattern) interact with the environment during a critical stage of growth to develop bonding in the young organism with other individuals/organisms. In humans, attachments are generally more complex, require a longer time-span for development, and are dependent on bonding "networks" of behavior (such as "body-contact" and "eye-face-contact"). According to psychoanalytic theory, and anaclitic theory, attachment occurs during the nurturing-affectionate caretaking activities (such as feeding) where the infant's instinctual biological urge for oral gratification is met through sucking responses and contact with the mother's breast, which is then transferred into psychological attachment to the mother as a "love object." The Austrian psychoanalyst Rene A. Spitz (1887-1974) described the disorder called anaclitic depression in infants that may result from parent-child separation after a relatively long (about six months) attachment period. Spitz also defined hospital-ism as the physical and psychological effects on an infant (up to 18 months of age) of prolonged and total separation from its mother, due to hospitalization, or some other similar condition; the effects include disruption of perceptual-motor skills and language, and retarded physical development. In the area of learning theory, the behavior of feeding is the major "drive-reducing reinforcement" mechanism for learned attachment to the mother. In addition to oral satisfaction through feeding, the behaviors of touching, holding, and physical contact are considered necessary for the development of comfort and attachment in the young child. Bowlby's work on mother-child separation indicates that the infant reacts to "loss" of the mother in three distinct stages: protests of anger/crying to get the mother back; a period of despair, withdrawal, depression, and decreased activity if the mother does not return as a result of the initial protests; and a detachment phase where the infant is relatively unresponsive to people and intensely hates the mother figure [cf., mignon delusion -named after the heroine (who dies without her longings being fulfilled) of an 1866 French opera by Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896), refers to a fixed false belief or delusion that one is the child of a distinguished family; it usually arises on the basis of disillusionment with one's real parents who have failed to demonstrate the omnipotence and qualities with which the child has endowed them, or as a defense against the aggressive sexual elements of the Freudian Oedipal period]. Bowlby asserts that attachment theory, vis-à-vis its relationship to psychopathology in the individual, is a scientifically valid approach that combines concepts from the fields of psychoanalysis, cognitive theory, control theory, and ethology. See also ANACLITIC THEORY; COGNITIVE CONSISTENCY THEORY; CONTROL/SYS-TEMS THEORY; CUPBOARD THEORY; ETHOLOGI-CAL THEORY; FREUD'S THE-ORY OF


Lorenz, K. Z., & Tinbergen, N. (1938). Taxis und instinkthandlung in der eiroll-bewegung der graugans. Zeitschrift fur Tierpsychologie, 2, 1-29. Spitz, R. (1945). Hospitalism: An inquiry into the genesis of psychiatric conditions in early childhood. Psychoanalytic Studies of the Child, 1, 53-74. Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child's tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350373.

Bowlby, J. (1960). Separation anxiety. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41, 89-113.

Bowlby, J. (1969-1980). Attachment and loss.

3 vols. London: Hogarth Press. Harlow, H. (1971). Learning to love. New

York: Ballantine Books. Ainsworth, M. (1973). The development of infant-mother attachment. In B. Caldwell & H. Ricciuti (Eds.), Review of child development research. Vol. 3. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


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