Major Movements in Psychology

Attachment Theory

Who was John Bowlby?

Attachment theory was one of the first movements to provide empirical support for the key concepts of psychoanalytic theory, specifically that early childhood relationships with caregivers have profound impact on later personality development. Similar to Carl Rogers, attachment theorists believed that scientific methods could be usefully applied to the study of emotional and interpersonal phenomena. Thus attachment theory was the first movement to bring scientific methods to bear on psychoanalytic ideas. Not surprisingly, this occasioned resistance at first but over time attachment theory has been accepted by most psychoanalytic schools.

Attachment refers to a biologically based drive in the child to form an enduring emotional bond with the caregiver, generally the mother. Attachment theory originated with John Bowlby who wrote a trilogy of books entitled Attachment and Loss (1969, 1973, 1980). Bowlby’s theory was greatly expanded by Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999), who developed an experimental procedure to study attachment. It was Mary Ainsworth who put attachment theory into the lab.

John Bowlby (1907–1990) was a British psychoanalyst who became concerned with the devastating impact of early mother-child separations, which he frequently witnessed when working in post-World War II England. Disturbed by the dismissal of real-life events in the psychoanalytic world view, Bowlby’s insistence on the real-time influence of the mother’s presence often put him at odds with his colleagues. Bowlby was also interested in ethology, the study of animal behavior, and eventually synthesized both psychoanalytic theory and ethology into his theory of infant-mother attachment.


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