An attachment is an emotional bond between two people. It is a two way process that endures over time. Bowlby’s theory- also referred to as the evolutionary explanation- of attachment explains that over millions of years, attachment has evolved to be an innate behaviour: since babies are born helpless, physically incapable of fending for themselves and completely dependent on a caregiver for food, water, warmth and safety, this behaviour is essential in increasing their chances of survival. This attachment also fosters future independence. It acts as a secure base from which a child can explore the world and the environment around them. It also acts as a safe haven whenever the child feels or is threatened. As a result of the importance of this attachment in security and survival, and also as a result of natural selection, attachment genes are perpetuated, so infants are born with social releasers i.e. babies naturally have features known as schemas that are appealing such as chubby cheeks and big eyes. They also behave in ways that are found adorable, appealing and release emotions in adults, e.g. smiling, laughing create joyful emotions and crying creates care giving emotions resulting in the adult needing to alleviate the infant’s distress. Basically, babies are born with natural features that make adults want to care for them. As the development of all biological systems occurs rapidly during a critical period, Bowlby believed that the second quarter of the first year (3-6months) is the most sensitive period in which babies develop attachments. It can however, take place for a time period after the critical period called the sensitive period. According to the sensitive period hypothesis, if attachment fails to happen, there will be long-term cognitive problems.
Three main features of Bowlby’s theory are:
Infants and caregivers- usually the mothers- have an innate desire to become attached to one another.
Attachment is a biological process which takes place within/ during the critical period. If it does not, it becomes increasingly difficult.
Attachment styles developed in infancy tend to have an impact on future, adult attachment styles via the continuity hypothesis. A template called and internal working model which plays a role in aiding and setting future relationships
Bowlby also argues that although, babies form multiple bonds, they form one special attachment with one specific attachment figure- usually the mother- after which attachments with siblings, grandparents etc. are formed. This is known as monotropy.
Konrad Lorenz (1952) was an ethnologist who discovered in his study of imprinting in geese that animals tend to form an attachment to the first moving thing they see (living or non-living) within the first few days after birth. Although initially, this discovery was accidental, it did illustrate the innate nature of attachment. Lorenz carried out some test to further prove this theory; he separated some eggs into two groups before they hatched leaving one group with their mother and the other, in an incubator. When the group in the incubator hatched, Lorenz himself was the first moving thing they saw and they all began following him around. When brought together with the other group, the geese would quickly separate back into their original two groups following either Lorenz or their natural mother.
Kennel and Klaus (1972) investigated the importance of contact within the first 3 days after birth. They also believed that although the bond formed between an infant and the caregiver was not as critical as that formed during imprinting, a lack or disruption in this bond could have a lasting disadvantage on the child. In order to prove this, they carried out a longitudinal research. They conducted their investigation by dividing into two groups, twenty-eight healthy mothers. They controlled the narrative and kept the independent variable constant