August 14, 2020

Attachment and loss John Bowlby

John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, specialized in child psychiatry and psychoanalysis. His findings on Attachment contributed to new thinking about human beings’ social and emotional development. The book discusses, examines, and displays all the topics related to attachment theory through experimental studies and other researchers’ work who show interest in understanding this theory (Freud and Ainsworth and Light and Schaffer and Baltimore). The book covers theories of motivation that show how the control system works and how it differs from instinctive behavior. It also discusses the evolutionary of adaptedness theory and links it to attachment classifications (Bowlby, 1977).

Researchers observed patterns of behaviors the infant displays in his mother’s presence and her absence; this helps examine the patterns of behavior to define the relationship to be followed with longitudinal research to measure findings according to researchers. Freud linked psychoanalytic investigations of patients to early years; he concluded:

“Psycho-analysis investigation, reaching back into childhood from a later time, a n d contemporary observation of children combine” (Bowlby 1997, p. 12).

Attachment is a crucial relationship and instinctive response to the need for protection, nutrient, and survival. The child builds fundamental social and emotional internal frameworks through his relationship with his mother during the sensitive period of his first year of life. Later around 8months he manifests fear from strangers, which proves that the child builds attachment to one figure during the sensitive period. The later attachment will be diverse in the context of peers, adult partnerships, and parental relationships (Bowlby, 1997).

Parenting style plays a significant role in stimuli infant responses to maintaining and developing the sense of security from this relation towards the world. Meeting the child’s cries and satisfying his needs will allow him to become aware of his own needs and develop an awareness of his set of goals that later will make him aware of others’ needs and their set of goals (Bowlby, 1997).

Ainsworth played a role in defining attachment behavior patterns through “The Strange Situation” experiment; she highlighted two types of attachment, secure and anxious. Secure children were more curious to learn about the environment, laughed more, showed competence socially and paid attention to details, displayed more cooperation with mothers and others. In addition, they manifested an organized sequence of goal-corrected behaviors. On the other hand, insecure/anxious children are divided into two Avoidance, who showed no interest in the environment, treated strangers in a friendly way better than their mother, were anxiously attached to their mother, but did not involve in physical touching when approaching her, they avoid the mother when returned. The second anxious attachment is the Ambivalent, who was anxiously attached to his mother, half wanting and half resisting her, showed more anger than other infants, a few were more passive, got angry when a mother wanted them to play away from her. These observations helped Ainsworth find a correlation between attachment behavior and socioemotional development. Which led researchers to observe that correlation and to provide evidence that the attachment patterns which a child displays at 12 months predict his social and exploratory behavior months and years later up to 6 years old. It concluded securely attached children were content, laughed more, were cooperative and curious, engaged in longtime play, had an intense interest in toys, paid more attention to details, were more competent socially, and no longer dependent on their mother’s presence (Bowlby, 1997).

The same findings were highlighted in Berkeley longitudinal studies (1973), which sorted children into two categories while investigating a correlation between children’s socioemotional and

capacity to modify levels of control according to circumstances. The first category is Ego-control varies from over to moderate to under-control; it refers to impulsive children, distractibility, reduced or open expression of emotions, narrow or too little restriction on the info processed. The second category, ego-resilience, varies from high to low and high end, refers to children who are resourceful with little flexibility in adapting to changes, flexibility in the use of their behavior, and ability to process competing information. Berkeley’s study concluded that there is a correlation between attachment and children’s socioemotional development and how children deal with and process information and challenging situations (Bowlby, 1997).

Play is an innovative tool for children to adapt, learn, and develop through manipulating their environment. It is essential to build a brick stone by bonding with a figure before they do. According to Piaget, exploratory and play are distinct behavior like feeding and mating; it starts with an orientation of the infant’s head to observe stimuli, then the body’s approach to a stimulus object, and finally, the investigation and manipulation of the object start. Some stimuli elicit interest/pleasure, and some elicit alarm/pain. When the child is across to a new experience, display patterns of behavior (withdrawal, inspection, investigation); Harlow stated that the process would accelerate in the presence of the mother, as the child is aware some experiences are of interest and some are alarming, so having the secure base (mother) around is needed to support his/her exploration. Playing with peers is an extension of this behavior (Bowlby, 1997).

Studies proved that; children with an anxious attachment would smile, explore, move and cooperate less, which directly affect play and, thus, cognitive development. On the other hand, secure children have the confidence to explore. These explorations of trust vs. mistrust, interest vs. alarm, and pleasure vs. pain, while living with a sensitive mother support their exploration help them to sense the balance of security and hope (Bowlby, 1997).

In conclusion, socioemotional development is linked directly to the attachment theory. Attachment elicits the behavioral system that develops during the first year of life through the sensory system exposed to pleasure and pain experiences. If children were exposed to only pain experiences they will withdraw from touch (sensory experiences), which will reduce language and concepts building processes, that directly reflect children’s cognitive development. Freud explains the urgency of attachment theory through the oral stage, where the child needs sucking not only for nutrients but also to feel secure and develop an autonomous self with good and evil, which later will be interpreted as the worth of love (Bowlby, 1997).


Bowlby, J. (1997) Attachment and loss. Vol. 1. London: Random house.

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