What is attachment?

What is attachment? Bowlby (1988) states that the umbrella term attachment can be used in a number of ways. There is attachment style which refers to the state and quality of an individual’s attachments. This can be secure or insecure. Insecure can be sub divided into avoidant, ambivalent and disorganised. Attachment behaviour is ‘any form of behaviour that results in a person attaining or retaining  proximity to some other differentiated and preferred individual’ (Hinde, 1982). Attachment behaviour is triggered by the separation or the threat of separation from an attachment figure. Attachment style and attachment behaviour are founded on the ‘internal working model of attachment’ as shown in figure 1.

Fig. 1

The 3 key features of an attachment relationship are

  • Proximity seeking to a preferred figure
  • The secure base effect
  • Separation protest

Bowlby suggested that a child would initially form only one attachment and that the attachment figure acted as a secure base for exploring the world.  The attachment relationship acts as a prototype for all future social relationships so disrupting it can have severe consequences.

The Strange Situation

Mary Ainsworth further developed Bowlby’s attachment theory with the ‘The Strange Situation’. The procedure, known as the ‘Strange Situation’, was conducted by observing the behaviour 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.

The outcomes were tabulated as follows.

 Secure AttachmentAmbivalent AttachmentAvoidant Attachment
Separation AnxietyDistressed when mother leaves.Infant shows signs of intense distress when mother leaves.Infant shows no sign of distress when mother leaves.
Stranger AnxietyAvoidant of stranger when alone, but friendly when mother present.Infant avoids the stranger – shows fear of stranger.Infant is okay with the stranger and plays normally when the stranger is present.
Reunion behaviorPositive and happy when mother returns.Child approaches mother, but resists contact, may even push her away.Infant shows little interest when mother returns.
OtherWill use the mother as a safe base to explore their environment.Infant cries more and explores less than the other 2 types.Mother and stranger are able to comfort the infant equally well.

Through enquiry and exploration of my client’s experience as a child and using both Bowlby’s and Ainsworth theories, provides me with valuable information on how my client’s internal working model was formed. It also poses the question is that internal working model still in operation today.