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Study Notes

Attachment Key Term Glossary

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

This glossary covers the essential terms relevant to the study of Attachment.

Don't forget to also make full use of the tutor2u study notes and revision quizzes on Attachment.

Affectionless psychopathy

A term used by Bowlby to describe people who don't show concern or affection for other people and show no or very little remorse or guilt

Asocial stage

Stage from 0-6 weeks where infant may respond to faces or voices but an attachment has not been formed


Two-way enduring emotional tie to another person

Contact comfort

The physical and emotional comfort that an infant receives from being close to its mother

Continuity Hypothesis

The idea that early relationships with caregivers predict later relationships in adulthood

Critical period

A time period where an attachment has to form or it never will

Disinhibited attachment

Child shows equal affection to strangers as they do people they know well

Evolutionary explanation

Explanation for behaviour such as attachment that views it as increasing survival chances


Where offspring follow the first large-moving object they see

Indiscriminate attachment

Infants aged 2-7 months can discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar people but does not show stranger anxiety

Innate behaviour

A behaviour that is instinctive and does not need to be learned

Insecure avoidant attachment

Attachment classification in Strange Situation where child shows low stranger and separation anxiety and little response to reunion

Insecure resistant attachment

Attachment classification in Strange Situation where child shoes high stranger and separation anxiety and resists comfort at reunion


The effects of growing up in an institution, such as a children's home or orphanage

Interactional synchrony

Infant and caregiver reflect each other's actions and emotions in a coordinated manner

Internal working model

Mental representation of our relationship with our primary caregiver that becomes a template for future relationships

Learning theory

Explanations that emphasise the role of learning in acquiring behaviours such as attachment

Maternal deprivation hypothesis

Separation from the mother figure in early childhood has serious consequences


A unique and close attachment to one person - the primary attachment figure

Multiple attachments

Formation of emotional bonds with more than one carer


Failure to form an attachment in early childhood

proximity seeking

The way that infants try to maintain physical contact or be close to their attachment figure


Infant and caregiver match each other's responses

Secure attachment

Most desirable attachment classification in Strange Situation where child shows separation anxiety, stranger anxiety and joy on reunion

Sensitive period

The best time period over which attachments can form

Separation anxiety

Degree of distress shown by the child when separated from the caregiver

Social releasers

Innate behaviours shown by an infant that lead to a caregiving response

Specific attachment

Infants aged 7 months tend to show a strong attachment to one particular person and are wary of strangers

Strange Situation

A controlled observation used to test children’s attachment patterns

Stranger anxiety

Degree of distress shown by an infant when with unfamiliar people


The characteristics and aspects of personality an infant is born with and that might impact on its attachment type

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