John Bowlby Case
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Module 05
Hi Class,
In this module we are going to talk about attachment theory. John Bowlby is usually the theorist we think of when we talk about attachment. Attachment theory is one of the most influential theories in developmental psychology and it has generated hundreds of studies since Bowlby first articulated it.

Like Erik Erikson, John Bowlby was interested in how infants attached to their caregivers. His theory focused on the crucial importance of the infants relationship with his/her primary caregiver. Bowlby studied evolutionary theory and he studied mother/infant relationships in animal species. Bowlby proposed the idea that attachment behavior was an evolutionary survival strategy for protecting the infant from predators.

In humans, Bowlby believed the quality of the relationship between mother and child influenced later social and emotional development for the child as s/he grew. Erikson would probably agree with him. Similar to Erikson, Bowlby viewed trust as essential in this first relationship. Also similar to Erikson, Bowlby believed that if the caregiver was responsive and sensitive to the infant, then the infant learned that the world was trustworthy and that people could be depended upon. The negative resolution of this attachment could impact an individuals later social relationships and the individual would be more likely to be suspicious and untrusting of others.

The foundation of Bowlbys attachment theory comes from three other researchers: Rene Spitz, Harry Harlow, and Konrad Lorenz.
Main Finding
René Spitz
Infants raised in institutions suffered in their physical and emotional development, even if they were well fed. Spitz studied infants in orphanages who were cared for by nurses in a 7:1 ratio (seven children to each nurse). Spitz noted that even if the infants needs were tended to (e.g., they were fed, diapers were changed, they were kept clean etc.), but they did not get a lot of one-on-one attention or affection, that despite their good physical care, Spitz noticed the infants lost weight and became listless and passive. The infants did not develop positive feelings toward their nurses, despite the good physical care. Other studies of institutionalized infants showed the same results.

Emotional Deprivation in Infancy: Study by Rene A. Spitz 1952
7:18 minutes
This film has a short quiz to take after you view it. Find this quiz under the “Assessment” Tab on Blackboard.
Harry Harlow
Harlow studied monkeys. He put baby monkeys in a cage with two types of artificial mother figures: (1) mothers made of wire mesh, and (2) mothers made of soft terry cloth. Harlows experiments showed that even when the baby monkeys got their nourishment (e.g., milk bottle) from the wire mesh mother, they spent nearly all of their time clinging to the softer, warmer artificial mother made of terry cloth.

Harlows Studies on Dependency in Monkeys 6:08 minutes
This film has a short quiz to take after you view it. Find this quiz under the “Assessment” Tab on Blackboard.
Konrad Lorenz
Proved that newborn goslings after hatching, would bond to the first moving object they saw. Lorenz called this process imprinting. Through his research he dispelled the notion that some animals bond instantaneously after birth. Imprinting was believed to be a protective feature enabling the mother to protect her babies from predators. Since she would usually be the first moving thing they saw after birth, her babies would stay close to her and therefore she could protect them.

Konrad Lorenz Experiment with Geese
1:33 minutes
This film has a short quiz to take after you view it. Find this quiz under the “Assessment” Tab on Blackboard.
Bowlby studied the work of these other researchers and he concluded that infants needed their mothers for protection and this evolutionary need formed the basis of the mother/infant (or caregiver/infant) emotional attachment. The childs primary attachment figure is the person who is sought out when the child experiences some sort of distress. Does the child run to mom, dad, grandma, or an older brother or sister? That is the question.

The child is most likely to go to the caregiver to whom s/he has the strongest and most secure attachment when there is a threat in the childs environment. Threats in the childs environment can be many things, such as hunger, pain, a stranger, or an unfamiliar setting. When the child is separated from this important caregiver, s/he may experience this as a threat and may feel a variety of emotions (e.g., anxiety, anger, sadness, extreme panic).

Stranger anxiety develops at around six months of age and this is again thought of as a protective feature from an evolutionary standpoint. Stranger anxiety means that children begin to fear people they do not know well. Kids are very curious at this point and are also becoming more mobile. At this age they are developing ability to crawl. If kids do not stay close to their caregiver, they may get into trouble or danger or be hurt. Stranger anxiety is thought to serve the purpose of keeping them close to their caregiver.

However, kids also need to explore their world. Therefore, according to Bowlby, kids learn that their caregiver can be a secure base from which they can venture away in order to explore. As the child grows and ages, the distance s/he will move from the caregiver lengthens in distance and time. However, sometimes even in adulthood when stressed or ill, that person may seek out their primary caretaker from childhood (e.g., primary caretaker such as a mother/father figure).

Bowlby was a theorist and not a researcher. Therefore, it was his colleague Mary Ainsworth who mostly conducted research on his theory.
Ainsworth set up the now famous experiment of the “Strange Situation.” Bowlby and Ainsworth believed that a childs attachment would be most evidenced in how the child

reacted when the child

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John Bowlby And Attachment Theory. (April 3, 2021). Retrieved from