John Bowlby

John Bowlby (1907-1990) is considered to be the father of the attachment theory.  After working with children in a clinic in London, Bowlby began to postulate the importance of a child’s attachment to their mother (or other primary caregiver) in terms of their development.  Bowlby believed that chilren were biologically pre-dispositioned to form attachmets with others because infants depend on others to fulfill their needs for survival. Because Bowlby believed that these behavoirs for attachment were formed at birth, he believed that this instict could be activated by various threats such as fear or separation. 

Main Points of Bowlby’s Attachment Theory

1. A child has an innate need to attach to one main attachment figure 
–> Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis– continual disruption of the attachment between the infant and caregiver couls result in long-term cognitive, social, and emotional difficulties

 2. A child should receive the continuous care of this single most important attachment figure for approximately the first two years of life
–> If the attachment figure is broken or disrupted during the critical two year period, the child will suffer irreversible long-term consequences of this maternal deprivation

 3. The long term consequences of maternal deprivation might include the following: delinquency, reduced intelligence, increased aggression, depression, affectionless psychopathy
–> Affectionless Psychopathy– an inability to show affection or concern for others

 4. The child’s attachment relationship with their primary caregiver leads to the development of an internal working model:   a) a model of others being trustworthy, b) a model of the self as valuable, and c) a model of the self as effective when interacting with others


How does this apply today?
Today, attachment theory is being explored in many different areas such as romantic relationships (DeWall, C. N., et. al., 2011), workplace relationships (Harms, P. D., 2011), and even adolescent’s fear of rejection in relation to early attachment (Natarajan, G., Somasundaram, C. P., & Sundaram, K. R., 2011).  In areas such as attachment in romantic relationships and even in workplace relationships, we see Bowlby’s influence with his idea of an internal working model of attachment and relationships through the development of a secure attachment relationship with the child’s primary caregiver.  Although more research is needed to be done to draw any conclusions about adolescent’s fear of rejection in relation to early attachment, if there is a proven correlation, this could support Bowlby’s idea that an interruption in attachment during the critical first 2 years of development could lead to damaging, life-long effects.

For more information…
Check out one of John Bowlby’s original articles on attachment published in 1958: The nature of the child’s tie to his mother.  The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-373.



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