HideShow resource information

Definition of Attachment

An emotional tie between two people shown in their behaviour.

1 of 58

What is attachment?

Babies are physically helpless at birth: they cannot feed themselves or escape from danger. 

They communicate by crying.

First relationships are important to babies as they ensure their survival during a relatively lengthy period of helplessness.

A bond is a set of feelings that ties one person to another: parents often feel strongly bonded with their newborn babies.

2 of 58

Early Interactions

Babies are born with primative reflexes: sucking, grasping and with sensory and perceptual abilities that help them to tune into the social world.

Babies have limited behavioural repertoire, developmental psychologists have devised methods to work out what very young infants understand about the wrold.

Johnson and Morton (1991) studied babies less than an hour old- showing them a control, schematic and scrambled face.

Early communication between parents and newborns is structured around the baby's cry.

Woolf (1969) identified three types of cry: The basic cry used to signal hunger- half second rhymthmic  cries interspersed with short silences of around 0.6 secs

Kaye (1997) observed mothers and very young babies during feeding. Mothers were quiet whilst the baby was suckling, after the suckling finished, the mothers would interact with the baby. It was an instinctive pattern, fitting the behaviour around the sucking, creating a dialogue. 

3 of 58

Definition of Reciprocity

The matching of actions in two people

4 of 58

Definition of Interactional synchrony

The coordination between the speech of a speaker and the movements of a listener during an interaction. 

5 of 58

Interactions between babies and parents

Meltzoff and Moore (1997) carried out experiments using 6 babies aged 12-27 days old, and 12 babies aged 16-21 days. The babies were shown facial gestures (e.g. sticking tongue out) and manual gestures (waving fingers) in order to investigate their abilities to imitate. 

Babies 12-21 could imitate both facial and manual gestures. The ability to imitate serves as an imortant building block for later socail and cognitive development. 

Condon and Ogston (1971) analysed the movements in adults whn speaking and listeneing to a speaker and found these were synchronised. They referred to this as interactional synchrony.

Brazelton (1975) observed 12 mother-baby pairs at regular intervals over the first 5 months of life. They videotaped play sessions lasting around 7 mins and carried out a microanalysis of the videotapes. Babies showed clear cycles of attention and non-attention, with 3 distinct phases. Several cycles occured per-minute. 

  • Attnetion and Build-up
  • Turning away
  • Recovery
6 of 58

Asocial Stage

Schaffer and Emerson (1964)

Asocial stage (0 to 6 weeks) - babies produce similiar responses to objects and people and do not prefer specific people to others. They have a bias towards human-like stimuli and prefer to look at faces and eyes. They rapidly learn to discriminate familiar people from unfamiliar by their smell and voice.


7 of 58

Indiscriminate attachment

Indiscriminate attachments (6 weeks to 6 months) - babies become more sociable. They can tell people apart and prefer to be in human company. They are relatively easily comforted by anyone and do not prefer specific individuals yet. They do not show fear of strangers.

8 of 58

Specific attachment

Specific attachments (7 months onwards) - Two changes take place around 7 months. The baby begins to show seperation anxiety, protesting when their primary attachment figure leaves them. They also show fear of strangers.


9 of 58

Multiple attachments

Multiple attachments (10-11 months) - multiple attachments follow soon after the first attachment is made. The baby shows attachment behaviurs towards several different people, such as siblings, grandparents and childminders.

10 of 58

Role of the father

Schaffer and Emerson's observational study showed how babies form multiple attachments around the age of 10-11 months. In the follow-up at 18 months, only 1 in 10 babies had a single attachment (13%), almost 1/3 (31%) had 5 or more attachments to grandparents, siblings and significant other.

Fathers were the first joint attachment figures in about 1/3 of infants in 1964. Now many fathers are more involved with their babies. 

Mothers appear to be quicker at recognising their infants in the first hours after birth (they have spent more time with the baby straight after birth. Fathers interact in a similiar way (making sure the babies are warm.- Christensson (1996) 

Paquette (2004) found that fathers are more likely to encourage toddlers to task risks and to be brave during physical play than mothers. Fathers more commonly structure talk around active play. 

Lamb et al. (1985) found that fathers' involvement with their infants can be captured using 3 dimensions: Interaction, Accessibility and Responsibility.

11 of 58

Definition of a Critical period

A window of time in which something (e.g. behaviour) develops. After the critical period has passed the behavior will not develop.

12 of 58

Explanations of attachment

Learning Theory:

Argues that attachments are based on the principles of classical and operant conditioning. First attachments are often formed to the person who looks after the infant, who feeds them and cares for them. 

The basis for the learning of attachments is the provision of food.  An infant will initially form an attachment to whoever feeds it.

13 of 58

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning: refers to learning via association. 

Before learning: Parent figure (neutral stimulus)- no response. Milk (unconditioned stimulus) - satisfaction of hunger (unconditioned response)

During learning: Milk (unconditioned stimulus) + parent figure (neutral stimulus) - satisfaction of hunger + pleasure (unconditioned response)

After learning: Parent figure (conditioned stimulus) - satisfaction (conditioned response)

14 of 58

Classical Conditioning (2)


15 of 58

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is learning through reward and punishment. The parent's actions of feeding and cuddling the infant are powerful rewards (positive reinforcement) for the baby, who will rapidly learn that their cries bring feeds and cuddles. Cuddles and feeding generally switches off infant's screams of hunger, (negative reinforcement for the parent) so are likely to repeat it. 

Postive reinforcement- a stimulus that increases the behaviour with positive consequences.

Negative reinforcement- a stimulus that increases the behaviour to prevent the negative consequence.

16 of 58

Evaluation of Harlow

Attachment was formed to the soft and cuddly cloth mother even when the wire mother provided milk.

This shows how contact comfort is more important than feeding as the basis for attachment, suggesting an evolutionary mechanism. 

In one variation called "iron maiden", infant monkeys continued to demonstarte attachment to the highly abusive mothers who blasted the infant monkeys with cold air at irregular intervals.

Attachment occured in the absence of rewards, showing the instinctive nature of this process. 

17 of 58

Evaluation of Schaffer and Emerson

Just under 1/2 of the babies in the sample (39%) formed first attachments to a person who did not carry out caretaking such as feeds and nappy changes.

This challenges the claim that attachments are based on the assocaition with feeding.

Attachments were more likely to be formed to people who played with the baby.

The learning explanation ignores the considerable evidence pointing to the imortance of evolutionary aspects of attachment.

These are considered by Bowlby's monotropic theory.

18 of 58

Bowlby's monotropic theory

The theory arose from his work as a psychiatrist in a child guidance clinic in London in the 1930s and 40s

The theory emphasises the importance of the attachment between a moother figure and baby.

The theory of Maternal Deprivation was written in 1951, and the monotropic attachemnt theory was written in the 1960s.

The theories are strongly linked and share many of the same ideas

Bowlby challenged the view put forward by learning theory that attachment was based on learned associaions, arguing instad that attachment was an instinctive behaviour pattern

19 of 58

Attachment as an instinct

Bowlby noticed that babies possess instincts, such as crying (social releasers) which encourage caregiving behaviour in parents, and that parents, especially mothers, possess corresponding instincts designed to protect their baby from harm and to nurture them to ensure survival into maturity.

20 of 58

The internal working model and continuity

The first attachment between the baby and their caregiver provided with an internal working model or template for their future relationships. The infant builds up a model of themsleves as lovable (or not) and a model of the relationship between the two.

21 of 58

Definition of the Internal working model

A template for future relationships incluing a model of how you and other people are likely to behave.

22 of 58

Definition of Monotropy

The tendency of babies to form a primary attachment to one person. 

23 of 58

The critical period- Bowlby

Bowlby thought that the process of attachment took place within a critical period, during the first 3 years of the child's life. From his research with troubled adolescents, he believed that the attachment between caregiver and child shouldn't be distrupted r broken for any reason before the age of 3, or there is serious consequences.

Critical period challenged 

Studies of orphaned childen who are adopted at the age of three or four have shown that children at that age are still able of forming strong attachments to their new adoptive parents.

24 of 58

Evaluation of Bowlby's theory


Much of the tehory is accepted. It is widely acknowledged that attachment has an instinctual base and that attachment should take place within the first few years of life

Adoptive agencies try and place children at as young an age as possible.

The importance of 'mothering' in the happiness and adjustment of the child and adult is widely accepted.

25 of 58

Evaluation of Bowlby's theory (2)


Criisims regarding monotropy. Argued that 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. 

By 7 months of age, just under a third (29%) of babies had multiple attachments and by the age of 10 months this figure had risen to almost 2/3 (59%). 

Schaffer and Emerson also found that the strongest bond was not necessarily to the mother as Bowlby implied.

At 18 months, only 1/2 the sample was strongly attached to their mothers and about a 1/2 was strongly attached. 

Bowlby overlooked the importance of fathers, seeing them as insignificant. 

26 of 58

Definition of Insecure-avoidant attachment

Baby treats mother and stranger similarly, avoiding closeness and contact

27 of 58

Definition of Secure attachment

Baby uses mother as safe base, showing distress at seperation and joy at reunion.

28 of 58

Definition of Insecure-ambivalent attachment

Baby alternates between seeking closeness and wanting distance.

29 of 58

Ainsworth "Strange Situation"

The procedure, known as the ‘Strange Situation’, was conducted by observing the behavior of the infant in a series of eight episodes lasting approximately 3 minutes each:

(1) Mother, baby and experimenter (lasts less than one minute).

(2) Mother and baby alone.

(3) Stranger joins mother and infant.

(4) Mother leaves baby and stranger alone.

(5) Mother returns and stranger leaves.

(6) Mother leaves; infant left completely alone.

(7) Stranger returns.

(8) Mother returns and stranger leaves.

30 of 58

The Strange Situation


31 of 58

Types of attachments (A)

Insecure-avoidant attachment (Type A) - 15% of babies fell into this category.

  • The relationship style of Type A babies involved keeping a distance and avoiding closeness
  • Type A babies did not orient their behaviour towards the mother.
  • They showed some distress ather departure but did not seek comfort from her when she returned
  • They rejected the stranger's attempts to comfort them.
32 of 58

Types of attachments (B)

Secure attachment (B) - 70% of babies fell into this category.

  • Type B babies used their mother as a safe base and were happy to explore the room when she was present.
  • They showed distress by crying when she left, and welcomed her back on he return, settling back down to play fairly quickly.
  • They were wary of the stranger and treated them differently to their mother.
33 of 58

Types of attachments (C)

Insecure-ambivalent attachment (C) - 15% of babies fell into this category.

  • Type C babies seemed to expect the relationship to be difficult and they alternated between seeking closeness and waning distance.
  • They were very distressed at seperation.
  • They were not easily comforted when the mother returned, appearing angry and rejecting mother's attempts to comfort them.
  • They kept a close eye on the stranger, especially when she interacted with the mother.
34 of 58

Differences in attachment types

De Wolff and Van ljezendoorn (1997) carried out a meta-analysis to assess the relationship between parental sensitivity and the security of babies' attachment. They analysed the results of 66 studies on over 4000 families and found correlation of 0.24 between sensitivity and attachment.

Kagan (1987) agued that Ainsworth's explanation places too much emphasis on the role of the mother and ignores the basic temperament of the infant. Temperants are different in babies that seem to be inbuilt and visible from birth 

Differnet aspects of temperament include: Activity, Emotionality and Sociability.

35 of 58

Consequences of Maternal deprivation

  • An inability to form attachments in the future (see the Internal Working Model)
  • Affectionless psychopathy (inability to feel remorse)
  • Delinquency (behavioural problems in adolescence)
  • Problems with Cognitive Development
36 of 58

The Evolutionary Theory

5 features (ASCMI)


Attachment promotes survival in a similiar way to imprinting. Observed in ducks, the young display an innate readiness to form an immediate bond with a mother figure. This bond is important for survival.

Social releasers

An important feature of attachment is that the bond is reciprocal (equal, common). Adults also innate tendency to become attached to their young. Bowlby suggested an important mechanism in this process- social releasers such as a cute baby face or giggling as it ensures caring for the young.

Critical period

Innate (biological) behaviours ussually have a specific time period for development (e.g. babies learn to walk about 11 months). Attachment develops during a sensitive/ critical period around 3-6 months. Later it becomes increasingly difficult to form attachments.

37 of 58

The Evolutionary Theory (2)


Infants only have one special emotional bond (monotropy) with their primary attachment figure. Infants also have many secondary attachments that are important for healthy and psychological and social development.

Internal working model

The relationship between an infant and their primary attachment figure creates expectations about what all relationships will be like, leading to an internal working model, of what intimate loving relationships are like and will base future relationships on this.

38 of 58

What the Strange Situation tests

-       Separation anxiety (shown when an infant is separated from caregiver)

-       Stranger anxiety (shown when infant is left with a stranger)

Reunion behaviour (the infants reaction to the caregivers return)

 Exploration (the infants willingness to use the caregiver as a safe baswe from which to explore the environment)


39 of 58

Evaluation of the Strange Situation

  • Reliable- has been repeated many times
  • Provided research into attachment
  • No demand characteristics from infant
  • Predicted validity- applications to later life
  • Supports the role of respnsiveness from Schaffer and Emerson - child attached to parent who is most responsive
40 of 58

Evaluation of the Strange Situation (2)

  • Ecologically invalid - child may not behave the same as at home as in a lab
  • Children may have different attachments to fathers or other carers. Experiment only done on mothers
  • Attachment type could be based on all relationships, not just mothers
  • Cross culturally invalid - only used middle class Californian mothers.
41 of 58

Cultural variations in attachment

Attachments don't just differ between individual babies. People bring up children differently in different cultures.

Fox (1977) studied child-rearing practices in kibbutzim, communal farms in Israel. Here babies are placed into communal childcare when they are aound 4 days old and cared for by a nurse called a 'metapelet'. The nurse feeds and changes the baby, the parents visit the baby for around 3 hours a day. When the baby is 4 months old, the babies move to another nursery. 

The child is likely to have less adult attention than in a family setting, and have much more contact with peers of a similiar age.  These both influence attachment to parents and on their later relationship.

42 of 58

Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988)

They perfored a meta-analysis of the results of 32 studies carried out in 8 different countries, using Ainsworths, The strange-situation, to examine cultural variations in attachment types. Over 2000 babies were studied. In each of the 32 studies, babies were classed using Ainsworths system, Type A,B or C. 

Secure attachment (B) was the most common form in all cultures surveyed. 

The lowest proportion of secure attachments (50%) was found in China and the highest (3/4) was in the UK and Sweden.

Avoidant attachment (A) was more common in West Germany than in other Western Countries. (They want indepedent children) Avoidant attachments were very vare in Israel and Japan.

Ambivalent attachments (C) was most common in Israel, China and Japan. Sweden and the Netherlands had the lowest rate of ambivalent attachments.

There was greater variation within cultures than between them (1 1/2 times), showing it is an over simplication to assume that all children are brought up in exactly the same way in a particual country or culture.

43 of 58

Role of the internal working model

The young child develops an internal working model from their first relationship, which consists of a view of themselves as loveable or otherwise, a model of the relationship between the two. 

Young children also develop characteristics attachment styles in their early relationship.

Ainsworth divided these into three types.

Research has taken place to establish whether these attachment types influence children's friendships, and whether they affect adolescents and adult relationships as Bowlby predicted. 

44 of 58

Early attachment on childhood relationships

According to attachment theory, the child who has a secure attachment style should be more confident in interactions with friends.

Waters, Wippman and Sroufe (1979), Jacobson and Willie (1986) and Lieberman (1977) all found that children classified as 'secure' go on to be more socially skilled in their friendships than both insecurely attached types of children.

Lyons-Ruth, Alpern and Repacholi (1993) carried out a longitudinal study that suggested that infant attachment type at 18 months was the best predictor or problematic relationships with peers in 5 year-olds.

Type D (Disorganised) seemed to struggle most to make friends with their peers. These studies support the claim that secure attachments enable children to be competent at later friendships.

45 of 58

Early attachment on adult relationships

Hazan and Shaver (1987)

'Is love in adulthood directly related to the attachment type as a child? Their research involved a 'love quiz' in their local North American paper, the Rocky Mountain News, which asked people to write into the paper reporting their expereneces of their childhood relationships with parents.

They were also asked which of three descriptions applied to their feelings/experiences about romantic relationships.  

They selected the first 630 of the responses for analysis. They found a relationship between childhood attachemnt type and adulthood attachment types.

They found that those who were securely attached as infants tended to have happy lasting relationships. On the other hand, insecurely attached people found adult relationships more difficult, tended to divorce and believed love was rare. This supports the idea that childhood experiences have significant impact on people’s attitude toward later relationships.

46 of 58



Reciprocity is a form of interaction between infant and caregiver involving mutual responsiveness, with both parties being able to produce response from each other. Smiling is an example of reciprocity – when a smile occurs in the infant it triggers a smile in the caregiver, and vice versa.

Reciprocity influences the child’s physical, social and cognitive development. It becomes the basis for development of basic trust or mistrust, and shapes how the child will relate to the world, learn, and form relationships throughout life.

47 of 58

Interactional synchrony

Interactional synchrony is form of rhythmic interaction between infant and caregiver involving mutual focus, reciprocity and mirroring of emotion or behaviour. Infants coordinate their actions with caregivers in a kind of conversation. From birth babies move in a rhythm when interacting with an adult almost as if they were taking turns. Infant and caregiver are able to anticipate how each other will behave and can elicit a particular response from the other. 

For example, a caregiver who laughs in response to their infants giggling sound and tickles them, is experiencing synchronised interaction.

48 of 58

Interactional synchrony (2)

Heimann showed that infants who demonstrate a lot of imitation from birth onwards have been found to have a better quality of relationship at 3 months. However, it isn’t clear whether the imitation is a cause or an effect of this early synchrony.

Many studies involving observation of interactions between mothers and infants have shown the same patterns of interaction. However, what is being observed is merely hand movements or changes in expression. It is extremely difficult to be certain. This means that we cannot really know for certain that behaviours seen in mother-infant interaction have a special meaning.

Observations of mother-infant interactions are generally well-controlled procedures, with both mother and infant being filmed, often from multiple angles. This ensures that very fine details of behaviour can be recorded and later analysed. Furthermore, babies don’t know or care that they are being observed so their behaviour does not change in response to controlled observation.

49 of 58

Waters, Merrick, Treboux. Crowell and Albersheim (

They examines stability of attachment from infancy to early adulthood. A sample of 60 white, middle class infants was assessed in the Ainsworth's Strange Situation at 12 months o age. They were contacted 20 years later and 50 of the original 60 agreed to take part in an interview to assess their adult attachment style. 

70% of the sample recieved the same attachmen classification in early adulthood. 

Those who changed their attachment style had generally experienced a life event (illness, divorce, loss of a parent).

44% of the infants whose mothers reported negative life ventschanged the classification from infancy to early attachment.

50 of 58

Zimmerman et al (2000)

Caried out a longitudinal study of 44 children in Germany.

Their attachment type as children was initially assessed between 12 and 18 months seeing how they responded to seperation and to strangers, and they were reassessed at the age of 16, using interviews focusing on their relationship with their parents.

He found that childhood attachment type was not a good predictor of attachment inadolescence, and that life events often alter secure attachments into insecure types in adulthood.

51 of 58

Maternal Deprivation

Bowlby’s (1953) Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis proposed that a “warm, intimate & continuous relationship with a mother (figure)” is necessary for healthy psychological/ emotional development. “Mother-love in infancy/ childhood is as important for mental health as are vitamins & proteins for physical health.”

Consequences of maternal deprivation include:

  • An inibility to form attachments in the future (the internal working model)
  • Affectionless psychopathy (inability to feel remorse)
  • Delinquency
  • Problems with Cognitive Development. 


52 of 58

Bowlby- 44 Juvenile Thieves study (1944)

44 thieves were compared with 44 non-theives from a delinquency centre. Bowlby collected data via interviews and questionnaires from the 88 juveniles. 17/44 thieves had experienced early prolonged seperation from their mothers before 5 years.


53 of 58

44 Juvenile Thieves study (2)

15/17 of these thieves were classified as affectionless psychopaths.

2/44 non thieves had experienced such seperation. These findings support MDH, link between disruption to attachment in the first 5 years and later maladjustment.

Bowlby's subsequent research reported that 60 children who had spent time apart from their mothers due to tuberculosis prior to the age of 4, demonstrated lower achievement in school.

Bowlby's findings indicate thatexperiencing disrupted attachments in life is linked tocrime, emotional maladjustment and lower academic achievment, lending strong support for the MDH 

Seperated from mother                Not seperated from mother                  Total

Affectionless thieves        12                                          2                                 14

Other thieves                    5                                           25                                30

Total                                 17                                          27                                44

54 of 58

Effects of institutionalisation

Hodges and Tizard (1989)

Conducted a longitudinal natural experiment using 65 children had been placed into institutional care before the age of 4 months, there was no attachment policy. 

By 4 years, 24 had been adopted, 15 returned and the remaining 26 were still in the instiution. Assessments were taken at 8 and 16. Data was obtained through interviews with the adolescents an their mothers (sometimes fathers)

A self-report questionnaire on social difficulties was completed by adolescents and then tehes completed a postal questionnaire, focusing on the adolescents' relationships with teachers and peers. 

Findings showed maternal deprivation was overcome largely by adopted children, going on to develop strongand lasting attachments to parents once placed in families in comparison to restored and institutionalised groups- who made limited recoveries.

55 of 58

Evaluation of Hodges and Tizard

Ethical- as it used a natural experiment meaning that the independent vaiable was naturally occuring, rather than being deliberately manipulate by a researcher.

Lacks random allocation- Children were already placed in the institution, ppts were not randomly allocated to conditions, whih means that individual differences between the children could influence the findings in unanticipated ways.

Some of the children adopted becasue of personal characteristics, which could explain why they mad a partial recovery rather than the fact that they were adopted, which lowers internal validity.

56 of 58

Romanian orphan studies

Rutter et al. (1998) studied 111 Romanian orphans adopted before 2 years and found that the sooner the children were adopted, the faster their developmental progress.

In Rutter’s subsequent research in 2007, he assessed children reared in profoundly depriving institutions in Romania and subsequently adopted into UK families.  Institutionally deprived adoptees were compared at 11 years with children who had not experienced institutional deprivation and who had been adopted within the UK before the age of 6 months. 

Children were followed up at 4, 6 and 11 

  • Parental reports at 4 and 6, focusing on the child's willingness to go off with strangers.
  • A home observation at 6 measuring the extent to which children made inappropriate contact with the researcher (e.g. trying to sit on knee, cuddle up or hold the researchers hand.)
  • Assessment of peer relations at age 11 via teacher and parent reports/
57 of 58

Disinhibited attachments in Romanian and UK

  No disinhibition      Mid disinhibition      Marked disinhibition

UK adoptees         21 (40.4%)                29 (55.8%)                   2 (3.8%)

Romanian                                                                                                                                adopted \< 6                                                                                                                             months                  24 (53.3%)                 17 (37.8%)                  4 (8.9%)

Romanian-                                                                                                                               adopted 6-24                                                                                                                         months                  26 (29.5%)                 39 (44.3%)                  23 (26.1%)

58 of 58


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Attachment resources »