Major Movements in Psychology

Attachment Theory

What was John Bowlby’s concept of attachment?

Generally, attachment is seen as a biologically-based, evolutionarily adaptive drive for the infant to seek protection from the mother. When the child is frightened or is separated from the mother, the attachment system is activated and the child will seek proximity or physical closeness to the mother. The child will reach toward the mother, cry to be picked up, or crawl close to the mother. In Bowlby’s view, the child is motivated to attain a sense of felt security, a subjective experience of safety and well-being-perhaps a kind of cozy contentment. When the child feels secure, the attachment system is deactivated and the exploratory system is turned on. At these points, the child will venture away from the mother to explore the world, to play. If the relationship with the mother is disrupted through separation or loss, the child will experience great sadness and distress, which can have long-lasting and even lifelong impact, depending on the severity of the loss.

This little boy’s crying and reaching for his mother are what Bowlby referred to as attachment seeking behaviors.When a child is separated from his or her mother, the attachment system is activated and the child displays attachment seeking behavior to re-establish contact (iStock).

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