Bowlby's Evolutionary Theory of Attachment

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Bowlby's Evolutionary Theory

Bowlby's theory is evolutionary as it enhances the ability of an individual to survive and reproduce.

Five key parts:

  • Secure base; 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, attachment encourages independence
  • Social releasers; caregiving is innate as it is adaptive, infants are born with certain characteristics called social releasers that elicit caregiving e.g. smiling/crying, attachment is the innate behavioural system in babies and caregiving is the innate response from adults
  • Monotropy; the primary attachment, an infant becomes most strongly attached to the person who responds most sensitively to the infants social releasers, the primary attachment figure provides the main foundation for emotional development, self-esteem and relationships
  • Internal working model; attachment starts as the relationship between a caregiver and an infant, his relationship creates expectations about all relationships, gradually the infant develops a model (a cluster of concepts about relationships and what to expect)
  • Sensitive/critical period; since attachment is innat there is a limited window for its development, development of all biological systems take place most rapidly and easily during a critical period, the 2nd quarter of the first year is when infants are most sensitive to the development of attachments and it becomes increasingly difficult after this time

Harlow's monkey study

Aim: To find out whether provision of food or comfort is more important in the formation of infant=mother attachment


  • 8 infant thesus monkeys were seperated from their mothers immediately after birth
  • Monkeys were individually reared in cages with 2 surrogate mothers, one made of cloth, one made of wire
  • 4 monkeys were in each group and they could get milk from the 'mother'
  • The animals were studied for 165 days


  • The infants spent more time with


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