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Attachment: Explanations for Attachment (AQA Psychology)


Last updated 22 Dec 2023

This topic quiz tests A-Level Psychology students' knowledge and understanding of the various th

Click here for the quiz: Attachment: Explanations for Attachment (AQA Psychology)

Attachment: Explanations for Attachment: An Academic Summary

Understanding how and why humans form close emotional bonds with others is a central question in developmental psychology. Attachment theory, pioneered by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, provides a framework for explaining the development of these early bonds, particularly between infants and their caregivers.

Several key explanations have emerged to account for the formation of these attachments:

1. Evolutionary Explanation:

  • Proposes that attachment behaviors, like seeking closeness and comfort from caregivers, evolved because they increased the chances of infant survival.
  • Infants who stayed close to their caregivers were more likely to receive essential care like food and protection,ultimately enhancing their chances of reaching reproductive age and passing on their genes.
  • This explanation emphasizes the innate and biologically driven nature of attachment behaviors.

2. Learning Theory:

  • Suggests that attachments develop through classical and operant conditioning.
  • Infants learn to associate their caregiver with positive experiences like feeding and comfort, leading to the development of positive feelings and a desire for closeness.
  • This explanation highlights the role of environment and experiences in shaping attachment.

[Image depicting a baby smiling and reaching out to their caregiver during feeding]

3. Social-Developmental Theory:

  • Focuses on the importance of reciprocal interactions between infant and caregiver in building attachment.
  • Through playful interactions, responsive caregiving, and emotional attunement, infants develop a sense of trust and security with their caregiver.
  • This explanation emphasizes the importance of quality of care and emotional responsiveness in fostering healthy attachment.

4. Psychoanalytic Theory:

  • Suggests that early experiences with caregivers shape an infant's internal working model of relationships.
  • Positive and responsive caregiving leads to a secure internal model, while inconsistent or neglectful caregiving can lead to insecure attachment models affecting future relationships.
  • This explanation highlights the long-term consequences of early attachment experiences on personality development and social functioning.

Overall, the formation of attachment is likely influenced by a combination of these factors, with no single explanation fully capturing the complex dynamics at play. The specific experiences and interactions an infant has with their caregiver, along with individual differences and biological predispositions, all contribute to the development of secure or insecure attachment styles.

Furthermore, it's important to remember that attachment is not a fixed outcome in early childhood. Individuals can develop healthier attachment patterns through positive relationships and therapeutic interventions throughout their lives.

Further Resources:

  • Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. Vol. 1: Attachment. Basic Books.
  • Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, E. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Zeanah, C. H., & Zeanah, P. D. (2016). Handbook of infant mental health (4th ed.). Guilford Publications.

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