Attachment behaviors among people

Published 27 Feb 2017

Research indicates that attachment behaviors formed in infancy will help shape the attachment relationships people have as adults.


A motivational system gives rise to close emotional bond between children and their parents. John Bowlby (1907-1990), a British psychoanalyst originally developed the theory of attachment. He went into the analysis and made efforts to understand the intense distress experienced by infants, on being separated from their parents. The emotional pain experienced by the infants was so deep, that they would go to any extent to achieve their objective of union with the parents. Parents are the primary attachment figures for the children for it is they who provide support, care and protection to them.

If the children don’t get it, they will have depression and despair. But attachment behaviors are not the exclusive domain of children. It is the ‘life-long’ asset of the human beings. It engulfs the human beings from the cradle to the grave and from the ‘womb to the tomb.’ The motivational system is identical whether it is for the children or for the adults. Infants and caregivers and adult romantic partners share the following common features:

“Both feel safe when the other is nearby and responsive
Both engage in close, intimate, bodily contact
Both feel insecure when the other is inaccessible
Both share discoveries with one another
Both play with one another’s facial features and exhibit a mutual fascination and preoccupation with one another
Both engage in “baby talk” (Fraley,Chris R.,2004)

When it is said that the attachment behaviors formed in infancy will help shape the attachment relationships people have as adults, it is just not the platitude. The same is based on research findings. Memories of the infancy form the foundation of the adult attachments. It reflects with the relationships with their parents are like. They are referred to in various indicators of attachment, like, attachment styles, attachment patterns, attachment orientations, or differences in the organizations of the attachment system. “In infancy, secure infants tend to be the best adjusted, in the sense that they are relatively resilient, they get along with their peers and are well liked. Similar kinds of patterns have emerged in research on adult attachment. Overall, secure adults tend to be more satisfied in their relationships than insecure adults. Their relationships are characterized by greater longevity, trust, commitment, and interdependence.”

Beginning of attachment:

Beginning of attachment is from the arrival of the baby or from the challenges of a toddler. The research in the field of attachment theory provides some definite answers. Research has provided clear evidence. It tells us about the fundamental understanding of why attachment is the cornerstone of infant development. The secure environment guides the children to their fullest potential. “Attachment theory began in the 1950s with the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Bowlby, became interested in young children’s responses to loss, and began studying the realms of attachment and bonding. He and Ainsworth, an American psychologist who conducted some of the most extensive field research into mother-infant interaction ever completed, formulated what is now commonly known as attachment theory.”(Porter, 2003)

Attachment theory is based on the belief that the mother-child bond is the essential and primary force in infant development, and thus forms the basis of coping, negotiation of relationships, and personality development. Mother helps the child to navigate the world, both internal and external. These emotional bonds develop rapidly in infants, and are critical to both infant development and the trajectory of events later in life.

Bowlby approached the study of attachment as a science and included many different disciplines in his approach, including general systems theory, evolutionary theory, ethnology (behavioral biology), and descriptive studies of children interacting with caregivers. In each aspect of his research, one fact became overwhelmingly clear: attachment is a biological necessity. Research has provided mounting evidence that stress and trauma impair optimal brain development while healthy attachment promotes it.

As children continue to age and develop, their needs evolve but their reliance on the attachment system endures. Even adolescence, often viewed as the pinnacle of developmental challenges, has its focus in attachment. Adolescents struggle with the tension between their connection to family and their formation of independence. The foundation built in the early years is the groundwork for this phase of life; if the attachment is secure and established, child and parents can negotiate the events of adolescence with little struggle. What does all this mean? Healthy attachment via healthy attunement is the key to healthy babies, and healthy babies are the key to healthy adults.

Bowlby’s Attachment Theory advances a multidisciplinary stance in which psychoanalysis is integrated with ethnology and sociobiology, psychobiology, the cybernetic theory of control systems and modern structural approach to cognitive development. In spite of the fact that the integration of these disciplines was first undertaken in order to understand the origin, function and development of the child’s early socio-emotional relations, Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment is in actual fact deeply embedded in a general theory of behavior which is an outgrowth of these manifold origins.
Affect ional bonds are formed as a result of interactions with the attachment figure, that is to say, between child and parent. Emotional life is seen as dependent on the formation, maintenance, disruption or renewal of attachment relationships. Consequently, the psychology and psychopathology of emotion is deemed to be largely the psychology and psychopathology of affect ional bonds. Preventative interventions should be the natural outcome of research on early mother-infant relationships. It is a un debatable issue that it proves far more fruitful to prevent a condition from becoming established than attempt to eradicate it once settled in. For instance, it would be much better to try to prevent mother-child separation at early stages of development -if humanly possible- than trying to cure an adult from the emotional derangement at a later stage.

According to Bowlby, the infant’s relationship to the parent begins as a set of innate signals that call the adult to the baby’s side. As time passes, a true affectionate bond develops, which is supported by new cognitive and emotional capacities as well as a history of consistent, sensitive, responsive care by the parent. Out of this experience, children form an enduring affect ional bond with their caregivers that enable them to use this attachment figure as a secure base across time and distance. The inner representation of this parent-child bond becomes an important part of personality. It serves as an internal working model, or set of expectations about the availability of attachment figures, the likelihood of receiving support from them during times of stress, and the interaction with those figures. This image becomes the basis for all future close relationships during infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adult life. (Bowlby, J. (1969).

The ethological approach to attachment offers a variety of strong arguments. Research has shown that the concepts of a secure base and internal working models exist and play an important role in the development of relationships in infancy, childhood, and adulthood .Attachment means interaction. A special type of interaction! An attachment can be an initiated action as well as the response to the action of the infant.

Understanding Attachment

Attachment is a theory of child development which holds that a disruption in the relationship between a child and its primary caregiver can lead to behavioral and emotional issues.
“But this early mating dance has another outcome. Through the thousands of interactions that occur between a child and its caregiver, the child forms a kind of mental template (attachment theorists call it an “internal working model.”) of how loving relationships are supposed to work. When these initial overtures at connection are met with love, the child learns that the world is good place, one worthy of his trust. Knowing that the world is a place to be trusted is what gives the child the confidence to learn and explore and tolerate the frustrations that are an inevitable part of growth and independence.” (Osborne, Martha.2007)

A child if constantly abused, abandoned, kept in an institutional setting, is likely to grow as cynical. The grim experience will have comments in relationships people have as adults. Even the slightest frustration gives him constant recollection of the unhappy past. Deviation from the path of attachment, in all probability lead to the following consequences in the adult life: Difficulty separating from a caregiver, hyper vigilance, intense anger, reckless exploration, indiscriminate friendliness, difficulty in expressing fears and sadness, reluctance to ask for help from parents, difficulty expressing or receiving affection, difficulty remaining relaxed when embraced and anxiety when having fun. (Hughes, Dan, 2001)

Attachment theory and substance abuse:

The wise saying goes, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” The initial stages of life, the formative years, are all important. Attachment theory asserts that there is a vital initial stage early in life that lays the foundation for the development of healthy relationships. An attachment bond is a specific form of relationship that is characterized by feelings of comfort when near the other person and a desire to remain close. In order to establish healthy adult attachment patterns, the child must have experienced with caregivers some level of safety, consistency, responsiveness, and comfort that creates a “secure base.” As such, the attachment process and attachment styles of people are mediated by the quality of early care giving, which ultimately influences future relationships as adults. (Ball, Samuel A, 1996)


The various theories of attachment are inclusive statements, research findings are also inclusive statements, not the exclusive ones. The evolution of a human being is not an easy subject to understand. Each life is a special life; each attachment is of the special type. An individual grows and he sometimes outgrows his own personality due to interaction with various types of situations, and special circumstances. He changes at the physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual levels. With a single stroke, all theories may come to a naught. Hundreds of situations and incidents act and react to shape the personality of an individual.


  • Fraley,R.Chris, Article: A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research, University of Illinois,
  • Porter, Lauren Lindsey, Journal: Mothering, Article: The Science of attachment: The Biological Roots of Love,
  • Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. Vol. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
  • Osborne, Martha, Article: Understanding attachment.
  • Hughes, Dan, article “The Nature of Attachment Relationships” from the March 2001 issue of the newsletter of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
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