Explanations of Attachment: Bowlby's Theory

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Attachment is adaptive

  • This is an evolutionary theory because attachment is a behavioural system that has evolved because of it's survival value and ultimately, its reproductive value.
  • Forming an attachment with an adult makes it more likely that an infant will survive because, for example, in the distant past this made them safe from predators. This adaptive behaviour will increase the likelihood of survival and reproduction. Infants who do not become attached are less likely to survive and reproduce.

Innate Characteristics

  • Since attachment is adaptive, it is therefore governed by the genes we inherit - the tendency to become attached is innate. This is because it has long term benefits (similar to imprinting), it ensures the infant stays close to the caregiver who will feed and protect them.
  • Infants are born with certain characteristics that ensure they receive care from others. For example an infant's large eyes and little nose are 'cute' and elicit caregiving. These characteristics are called social releasers.
  • There is an innate response of caregivng (because its adaptive) which is activated due to these social releasers.


- There is research support for the innate basis for attachment. Lorenz found that goslings had an innate tendency to follow and stay close to the first moving object they saw (either their natural mother or him). This is called imprinting. The fact that the goslings became 'attached' to Lorenz demonstrates an innate process that has survival value. This suggests that a similar innate process evolved in humans to promote survival.

- There is further research support for the innate basis of attachment. Tronick et al studied Africans with different cultural practices to our own (e.g. infants were breastfed by several women). Nevertheless infants formed a primary attachment to one person (monotropy).If a behaviour is innate, then we would expect people from different cultures to display the same kind of behaviour, i.e. we would expect attachment to be universal. This shows that attachment is innate rather than being culturally determined.

Sensitive Period

  • Innate (biological) behaviours usually


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