Main Attachment Resources

An Attachment Primer

Fundamentals of Attachment Theory

Infant attachment is a relationship concept
  1. Attachment refers to the relationship between infant and caregiver
  2. It is not a characteristic of the infant
  3. “Secure attachment” means secure (confident) in this relationship
  4. An infant may be securely attached to one parent, anxious with the other
All infants become attached if there is an available figure
  1. The disposition to become attached is strongly built in to human biology
  2. All that is required is that someone interact with the infant over time
  3. Even infants who are mistreated will be attached to the caregiver
  4. Only infants with no continuously present figure will fail to be attached
  5. The term “unattached child” generally is a misnomer
While all infants become attached, attachments vary in quality
  1. Once attachments are consolidated (usually by 12 months), all are strong
  2. Abused children are just as attached as are well-treated children
  3. But some attachments are secure, others are anxious
  4. Anxiously attached infants are doubtful about caregiver availability or responsiveness, and may even be frightened of them, but are attached
Quality of attachment is based in the quality of care experienced
  1. If caregivers are reliably emotionally available and sensitively responsive, infants will develop positive expectations and confidence in the caregiver
  2. If caregivers are inconsistent/haphazard in responsiveness, infants will be uncertain of their availability and thus anxiously attentive to them
  3. If caregivers have been chronically emotionally unavailable or rejecting when the infant seeks closeness, infants will doubt their availability now
  4. If caregivers are frightening or unfathomable, infants will be unable to organize or maintain organization of attachment behavior
Attachment quality is revealed in the organization of attachment behavior
  1. Effective balance between exploration and attachment behaviors: in absence of threat, infant actively explores; when threatened retreats to caregiver (caregiver as secure base and “safe haven”)
  2. Preferential seeking of caregiver when stressed or needing comfort, support or nurturance (interest in others when not threatened)
  3. Active initiation of contact or interaction when threatened (e.g., following brief separations in the laboratory)
  4. Feelings of anger or petulance do not interfere with contact seeking

The Development of Attachment

Phases of attachment (adapted from Bowlby and Ainsworth)
  1. 0-10 weeks: “social orientation”: infant is attracted to human voices and faces, and develops the social smile (to all persons, but discriminates caregiver)
  2. 3-6 months: discriminated signals, differential treatment of caregivers
  3. 6-12 months: formation and consolidation of the “specific attachment” (infant now attached as shown by greetings, following, preferential treatment when distressed, and beginning use of caregiver as a secure base
  4. 12-24 months: attachment exploration balance
  5. 24-36 months: “goal corrected partnership” (child can now understand both own and caregiver goals and adjust behavior accordingly)
Attachment in childhood
  1. Attachment remains strong but is less readily visible in non-threatening circumstances (child has increasing capacity to regulate own emotions).
  2. Still apparent in emergency situations and when the child is injured, ill, or frightened
  3. Laboratory attachment assessments become more difficult
Adult attachment
  1. Attachments to parents endure through life
  2. Grief over loss occurs from the end of infancy on
  3. Over time attachments to multiple figures become merged into a singular “state of mind”
  4. “State of mind” refers to the individual’s degree of integration of attachment experiences and degree of openness toward acknowledging and exploring attachment feelings

Basic Attachment Readings

  • Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
  • Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and Loss: Vol. 2. Separation. New York: Basic Books.
  • Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base. New York: Basic Books.
  • Bretherton, I., & Munholland, K. (2008). Internal working models in attachment relationships:  Elaborating a central construct in attachment theory.  In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment (pp. 102-130). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Carlson, E. A., Sampson, M., & Sroufe, L. A. (2003). Attachment theory and pediatric practice. Journal of Development and Behavior Pediatrics, 24(5), 364-379.
  • Egeland, B., & Erickson, M. F. (2004). Lessons from STEEP: Linking theory, research, and practice for the well-being of infants and parents. In A. Sameroff, S. McDonough & K. Rosenblum (Eds.), Treating Parent-Infant Relationship Problems (pp. 213-242). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Egeland, B., Jacobvitz, D., & Sroufe, L. A. (1988). Breaking the cycle of abuse. Child Development, 59(4), 1080-1088.
  • Egeland, B., Weinfield, N., Bosquet, M., & Cheng, V. (2000). Remembering, repeating, and working through: Lessons from attachment-based interventions. In J. Osofsky (Ed.), WHIMH Handbook of Infant Mental Health (Vol. 4, pp. 35-89). New York: Wiley.
  • Fury, G., Carlson, E. A., & Sroufe, L. A. (1997). Children’s representations of attachment relationships in family drawings. Child Development, 68, 1154-1164.
  • Hesse, E. (1999). The Adult Attachment Interview: Historical and current perspectives. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment (pp. 395-433). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Hesse, E., & Main, M. (2000). Disorganized infant, child, and adult attachment: Collapse in behavioral and attentional strategies.Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 48, pp. 1097-1127.
  • Holmes, J. (1998). Defensive and creative uses of narrative psychotherapy: An attachment perspective. In G. Roberts & J. Holmes (Eds.), Narrative in psychotherapy and psychiatry (pp. 49-68). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Lieberman, A., & Zeanah, C. H. (1999). Contributions of attachment theory to infant-parent psychotherapy and other interventions with infants and young children. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 555-574). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Liotti, G. (1992). Disorganized/disoriented attachment in the etiology of the dissociative disorders. Dissociation, 4, 196-204.
  • Main, M. (1995). Recent studies in attachment: Overview with selected implications for clinical work. In S. Goldberg, R. Muir & J. Kerr (Eds.), Attachment theory: Social, developmental, and clinical perspectives (pp. 407-475). Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
  • Main, M. (2000). The organized categories of infant, child, and adult attachment: Flexible vs. inflexible attention under attachment-related stress. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 48, pp. 1055-1096.
  • Main, M., & Goldwyn, R. (1998). Adult attachment interview scoring and classification manual–6th version.Unpublished manuscript, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Main, M., & Hesse, E. (1990). Parents’ unresolved traumatic experiences are related to infant disorganized attachment status: Is frightened or frightening parental behavior the linking mechanism? In M. Greenberg, D. Cicchetti & E. M. Cummings (Eds.),Attachment in the preschool years (pp. 161-182). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Main, M., Kaplan, N., & Cassidy, J. (1985). Security in infancy, childhood, and adulthood: A move to the level of representation.Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development , 50 (1-2, Serial No. 209), 66-104.
  • Main, M., & Solomon, J. (1990). Procedures for identifying infants as disorganized/disoriented during the Ainsworth strange situation. In M. T. Greenberg, D. Cicchetti & E. M. Cummings (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years (pp. 121-160). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Marvin, R., Cooper, C., Hoffman, K., & Powell, B. (2002). The Circle of Security project: Attachment-based intervention with caregiver-preschool child dyads. Attachment & Human Development, 4(1), 107-124.
  • Muir, E. (1992). Watching, waiting, and wondering: Applying psychoanalytic principles to mother-infant intervention. Infant Mental Health Journal, 13(4), 319-328.
  • NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (1997). The effects of infant child care on infant-mother attachment security: Results of the NICHD study of early child care. Child Development, 68, 860-879.
  • Sander, L. (1975). Infant and caretaking environment. In E. J. Anthony (Ed.), Explorations in child psychiatry (pp. 129-165). New York, NY: Plenum Press.
  • Schore, A. N. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: The neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Sroufe, J. (2003). Applications of attachment theory to the treatment of latency age children. In M. Cortina & M. Marrone (Eds.),Attachment theory and the psychoanalytic process (pp. 204-226). London: Whurr Press.
  • Sroufe, L. A. (1977). Attachment as an organizational construct. Child Development,48, 1184-1199.
  • Sroufe, L. A. (1986). Appraisal: Bowlby’s contribution to psychoanalytic theory and developmental psychology; attachment: separation: loss. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 27, 841-849.
  • Sroufe, L. A. (2005). Attachment and development:  A prospective, longitudinal study from birth to adulthood, Attachment and Human Development7, 349-367.
  • Sroufe, L. A., Egeland, B., Carlson, E., & Collins, W. A. (2005). The development of the person. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Sroufe, L. A., Egeland, B., & Kreutzer, T. (1990). The fate of early experience following developmental change: Longitudinal approaches to individual adaptation in childhood. Child Development, 61, 1363-1373.
  • Sroufe, L. A., & Fleeson, J. (1986). Attachment and the construction of relationships. In W. Hartup & Z. Rubin (Eds.), Relationships and development (pp. 51-71). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Sroufe, L. A., & McIntosh, J. (2011, July). Divorce and attachment relationships: The longitudinal journey. Family Court Review.
  • Steele, H. & Steele, M. (2008). Clinical applications of the Adult Attachment Interview. New York: Guilford Press.

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