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Learn More. Attachment theory has been generating creative and impactful research for almost half a century. In this article we focus on the documented antecedents and consequences of individual differences in infant attachment patterns, suggesting topics for further theoretical clarification, research, clinical interventions, and policy applications. We also review connections between attachment and psychopathology, b neurobiology, c health and immune function, d empathy, compassion, and altruism, e school readiness, and f culture. We conclude with clinical-translational and public policy applications of attachment research that could reduce the occurrence and maintenance of insecure attachment during infancy and beyond.
Our goal is to inspire researchers to continue advancing the field by finding new ways to tackle long-standing questions and by generating and testing novel hypotheses. Using a combination of case studies and statistical methods novel at the time for psychoanalysts to examine the precursors of delinquency, Bowlby arrived at his initial empirical insight: The precursors of emotional disorders and delinquency could be found in early attachment-related experiences, specifically separations from, or inconsistent or harsh treatment by, mothers and often fathers or other men who were involved with the mothers.
Over the subsequent decades, as readers of this journal know, he built a complex and highly generative theory of attachment.
Unlike other psychoanalytic writers of his generation, Bowlby formed a working relationship with a very talented empirically oriented researcher, Mary Ainsworth. Her careful observations, first in Uganda Ainsworth, and later in Baltimore, led to a detailed specification of aspects of maternal behavior that preceded individual differences in infant attachment. This clear and strong statement could be made in large part because of the research inspired by Bowlby's theory and Ainsworth's creative research methods.
Moreover, since the 's there has been an explosion of research examining attachment processes beyond the parent-child dyad e. In the present article, space limitations lead us to focus principally on attachment processes early in life and consider the adult Adult singles dating in Ainsworth literature largely in relation to parental predictors of infant attachment.
During the 70 years since Bowlby's initial consideration of the developmental precursors of adolescent delinquency and psychopathology, researchers have provided a complex picture of the parental and experiential precursors of infant attachment, the links between early attachment-related experiences and later child functioning, the mechanisms involved in explaining these links, and moderators of these linking mechanisms.
Much has been learned at each of several analytic levels, including behavior, cognition, emotion, physiology, and genetics. Figure 1 summarizes this literature in a simple model. We have selected several of the components in Figure 1 for further discussion.
For each component, following a brief background and review of the current state of knowledge, we offer suggestions for future research, Adult singles dating in Ainsworth largely on identification of gaps in theory or methodological innovations that make new lines of discovery possible.
We begin by considering one of the central concepts of attachment theory, the internal working model, followed by a consideration of physiological mechanisms that also help to explain the influence of early attachments. Next, we consider the caregiving behavior that predicts infant attachment and the perplexing issue of the transmission gap between parental Adult Attachment Interview AAI classifications and infant Strange Situation classifications. We then examine connections between attachment and psychopathology, b neurobiology, c health and immune function, d empathy, compassion, and altruism, e school readiness, and f culture.
Finally, we discuss the translational application of attachment research to reducing the risk of developing or maintaining insecure attachments and the policy implications of attachment research. A complete depiction of attachment processes would require several s. For instance, here we note the parent's own attachment representations as a contributor to parental attachment-related behavior. There are many other important contributors to parental behavior, including culture, SES, parental age, parental personality, child temperament, and presence or absence of a partner, to name a few.
Each of the constructs and arrows in Figure 1 could be surrounded by numerous others. It is by postulating the existence of these cognitive components and their utilization by the attachment system that the theory is enabled to provide explanations of how 's experiences with attachment figures come to influence in particular ways the pattern of attachment he develops. Insecure individuals should exhibit gaps in, or distortion or even absence of, such a script. Waters and colleagues H. Secure attachment at 2 years of age was positively correlated with the creation of stories involving knowledge of and access to the secure base script at ages 3 and 4.
Despite Bowlby's hypothesis that infants develop IWMs during the first year of life see also Main et al. We believe, as do others Johnson et al.
Such work is made possible by recent efforts to bridge social-emotional and cognitive developmental research e. Attachment researchers have assumed that infants recall the emotional nature of their attachment-related social experiences with specific individuals e. This claim has been supported with correlational research findings; for example observations indicating that infants' daily interactions with attachment figures are linked to their IWMs reflected in behavior in the Strange Situation Ainsworth et al.
These findings can now be supplemented with from experimental studies. There is a compelling body of experimental work showing that infants extract complex social-emotional information from the social interactions they observe. At present, there is no experimental research showing that infants form expectations about the later social behavior of another person toward them based on the infants' own past interactions with that person — a capacity that is assumed to underlie infants' development of working models of their caregivers.
Methods used by researchers who study infant cognition, but rarely used by attachment researchers e. For example, habituation paradigms could allow attachment researchers to study infant IWMs of likely mother and infant responses to infant distress see Johnson et al. Another research area relevant to attachment researchers' conception of IWMs concerns infants' understanding of statistical probabilities. Implicit in such a perspective is the assumption that an infant can make probabilistic inferences.
Only recently has there been a surge in interest in the methods available to evaluate this assumption of attachment theory Adult singles dating in Ainsworth. One useful conceptual perspective, called rational constructivism, is based on the idea that infants use probabilistic reasoning when integrating existing knowledge with new data to test hypotheses about the world. Xu and Kushnir have further proposed that these capacities appear to be domain-general, being evident in a variety of areas: language, physical reasoning, psychological reasoning, object understanding, and understanding of individual preferences.
Notably absent from this list is the domain of social relationships, including attachment relationships. Several questions about probabilistic inferences can be raised: Do infants make such inferences about the likely behavior of particular attachment figures, and could this ability for qualitatively different attachments to different individuals e. Do infants use probabilistic reasoning when drawing inferences related to the outcomes of their own attachment behaviors?
In sum, it seems likely that infants use statistical inference to understand their social worlds. This ability would seem to be evolutionarily adaptive in relation to attachment figures, because infants could incorporate probabilistic inferences into their IWMs and use them to guide their attachment behavior. Important advances in our understanding of attachment behavior might occur with respect to how and when this incorporation happens, and also with respect to the role of statistical inference in infants' openness to change in response to changing environmental input e.
Bowlby's emphasis on cognitive IWMs as the mechanism through which early experiences influence later functioning is understandable given the emerging cognitive emphasis in psychology when he was writing. But scientists are becoming increasingly aware that the effects of attachment-related experiences are carried in the body and brain in ways not easily reducible to cognition.
As a way to touch briefly on the physiological processes involved in attachment, we focus here on a central issue in attachment theory: infants' responses to threat as these are shaped by attachment relationships. One of the core propositions of attachment theory is that proximity to an attachment figure reduces fear in the presence of a possible or actual threat.
As explained in the section, Bowlby thought the mechanism that explained this link is children's experience-based cognitive representation of the availability of an attachment figure.
Specifically, it is because securely attached infants are more likely than insecurely attached infants to have mental representations of caregiver availability and responsiveness that they are able to interpret a threat as manageable and respond to it with less fear and anxiety. Yet in Adult singles dating in Ainsworth that do not possess human representational capacities, the link between attachment and response to threat clearly exists, suggesting that in humans there is likely to be more to attachment orientations than cognitive IWMs.
For the initial and more extensive discussion of ideas presented in this section, see Cassidy, Ehrlich, and Sherman . Since the time of Bowlby's original writings, one important advance that has extended our understanding of the link between attachment and response to threat has roots in Myron Hofer's laboratory in the s. Hofer, a developmental psychobiologist, noticed defensive vocal protest responses to maternal separation in infant rat pups and asked what non-representational process could for them. The pups exhibit changes in multiple physiological and behavioral systems, such as those controlling heart rate, body temperature, food intake, and exploration.
Hofer concluded that mother-infant interactions have embedded within them a of vital physiological regulatory functions that are disrupted by separation from mother and do not require cognitive mediators. Later, Meaney and colleagues e. This research group further found that individual differences in maternal behavior were mediated by differences in offsprings' gene expression Weaver et al.
A growing body of research indicates that differences in the quality of early care contribute to variations in the initial calibration and continued regulation of this system. Researchers have examined connections between caregiving experiences and infant stress physiology by comparing infants' cortisol levels before and after a stressful task e. For example, Nachmias, Gunnar, Mangelsdorf, Parritz, and Buss Adult singles dating in Ainsworth that inhibited toddlers who were insecurely attached to their caregivers exhibited elevated cortisol levels following exposure to novel stimuli.
A of studies have documented the disrupted stress response of maltreated children e. Even living in a family in which the violence does not involve them directly has negative consequences for children, and studies suggest that the quality of caregiving in these harsh environments plays an important role in modifying the stress response e. Just as infants are thought to have evolved a capacity to use experience-based information about the availability of a protective caregiver to calibrate their attachment behavioral system Main,and given the close intertwining of the attachment and fear systems, it is likely that infants also evolved a capacity to use information about the availability of an attachment figure to calibrate their threat response system at both the behavioral and physiological levels Cassidy, Does the nature of their interaction vary across particular aspects of child functioning and across developmental periods?
How can we understand these interactions in relation to both normative development and individual differences? In humans, representations and physiological e. Sapolsky noted that, in humans, representational processes — the anticipation of threat when none currently exists — can launch a stress response. Conversely, in times of both anticipated and actual threat, the capacity to represent a responsive attachment figure can diminish physiological responses associated with threatening or painful experiences see Eisenberger et al.
Moreover, consideration of linkages between representational and non-representational processes must include the possibility that causality flows in both directions: Physiological stress responses can presumably prompt a person to engage in higher-level cognitive processes to understand, justify, or eliminate the stressor.
When and how do young children use attachment-related representations as regulators of stress? Neither normative trajectories nor individual differences in the use of representations to influence stress reactivity have been examined extensively. Evidence that stress dysregulation can lead to the conscious engagement of representational processes comes from children as young as 4 who are able to describe strategies for alleviating distress e. Recent studies of adults show that there are such processes, that there are individual differences in them that might relate to attachment orientations, that they are associated with particular brain regions that are not the same as those associated with conscious, deliberate emotion regulation, and that they can be influenced experimentally with priming procedures.
Many researchable questions remain: Given the extent to which many forms of psychopathology reflect problems of self-regulation in the face of stress e. What about hidden regulators embedded within a relationship with a therapist who, according to Bowlby serves as an attachment figure in the context of long-term psychotherapy?
When change occurs following long-term therapy, does this change emerge through cognitive representations, changes at the physiological level, or both? See Cassidy et al.Adult singles dating in Ainsworth
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