Bonding Process between Primary Caregiver and Their Babies
For many parents, bonding with their babies is a virtually instantaneous experience at the moment of birth, while for others the process takes longer or may never fully develop. Although it is impossible to discern when bonding will take place, the theories of researchers such as Lorenz, Harlow, Bowlby and Ainsworth provide some insights into the process. This paper provides a review of these theories and an explanation concerning the ways attachment happens followed by a discussion of a long-term effects of each type of attachment on individuals at all stages of their development. More specifically, the paper provides an overview and popular definitions of attachment, a description of the major concepts of Ainsworth's theory, and discussion concerning how attachment comes about. An analysis concerning how attachment is experienced by the infant and primary caregiver and what happens between an infant and primary caregiver is followed by a description concerning how attachment affects the developing child and the adolescent, and ultimately, how attachment is related to successful aging. A summary of the research and important findings concerning bonding and attachment are presented in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
What is Attachment?
Although there is no universally agreed upon definition, Cassidy and Shaver (1999) report that attachment has been defined as "the inborn bias of each human being to seek proximity to a stronger or wiser person in times of stress or distress" (p. 37). In other words, humans are "hardwired" for attachments between parents in general and mothers in particular because of their biological relationships. In his seminal report for the World Health Organization in 1951, John Bowlby, a prominent child psychologist, confirmed that attachment "was as important for the psychological development as proteins and vitamins are for the physical development" (cited in Cassidy & Shaver, 1999, p. 37). In a process that is better described that understood, Bowlby argued that babies become attached to their mothers (and fathers) based on a wide array of fundamental human needs, including food of course, but a number of other attachment supports as well. For instance, Cassidy and Shaver report that from Bowlby's perspective, "The way to a child's heart is not through the stomach but through continuous and sensitive interactions with a protective parent or caregiver" (1999, p. 37). Confirming the hardwired analogy used above, Cassidy and Shaver also note that, "Attachment theory is built upon the assumption that children come to this world with an inborn inclination to show attachment behavior -- and this inclination would have had survival (or 'inclusive fitness') value in the environment in which human evolution originally took place" (1999, p. 38).
In general, the term "attachment" is among the most popular labels that have been applied to the process by which emotional bonds between children and parents are forged, with other such antecedent terms including "dependency" and "object relations" (Goldberg, 1999, p. 307). The emotional bonds conceptualized by Bowlby's theory of attachment involve the interrelationship between babies and their primary caregivers and the process by which these interactions help the child survive and thrive during the early years of life (Reda & Hartshorne, 2008). According to Reda and Hartshorne, "Attachment theory emphasizes the importance of the affectional bond between the primary caregiver and the child. Attachment is not the same as closeness, liking, or relationship. It reflects an innate behavioral system leading to a child becoming emotionally attached to the primary caregiver" (p. 12). In the context of a relational construct, there is a synergistic process wherein parents and children both contribute to the relationship and researchers have examined different parenting and child variables to determine their effect on the quality of attachment (Reda & Hartshorne, 2008).
The concept of attachment also includes social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral components as follows:
1. Social components: it is a property of social relationships;
2. Emotional components: each participant in the relationship feels emotional bonds with the other;
3. Cognitive components: each participant forms a cognitive scheme - a working model of the relationship and its participants, and,
4. Behavioral components: participants engage in behaviours that reflect and maintain the relationship (Goldberg, 1999, p. 307).
Although the precise nature and interrelationship between the foregoing four components of attachment vary from time to time and over time, the fundamental relationship remains in place (Goldberg, 1999)..
What are the major concepts of Ainsworth's theory?
The major concepts of Ainsworthy's theory are based on the seminal work by Bowlby and include both independent and collaborative research with him. For instance, Seedall (2011) reports that, "Ainsworth's important contributions to attachment theory [include] her meticulous observational coding of mother-infant interaction in Uganda and Baltimore, Maryland which served to validate Bowlby's ideas as well as to advance them by helping lay the groundwork for classifying differing attachment strategies" (p. 509). This continuing empirical study of attachment theory in real-world settings has contributed to the validity of Bowlby's original work, and Ainsworth and others have continued their research in this area (Reinert, Edwards & Hendrix, 2009). For example, Reinert, Edwards and Hendrix (2009) report that, "Bowlby and Ainsworth and colleagues developed attachment theory as an outgrowth of their studies of children deprived of families, observations of mother -- child dyads, and examinations of the behavioral responses of children to separation and reunion" (p. 113). As noted above, researchers including Ainsworth and others have expanded Bowlby's original work by examining other factors that contribute to attachment and bonding between primary caregivers in general and mothers in particular. In this regard, Reinert and his associates (2009) add that, "Through their work [Ainsworth & Bowlby, 1991], they recognized that then-current psychoanalytic theories were inadequate to explain how the bond between mother and child develops, functions, and influences personality" (p. 113).
These important contributions were followed by other influential shifts in the prevailing paradigm, including the most recent findings from other fields of study. As Reinert et al. conclude, "Their work resulted in an updated version of psychoanalytic object-relations theory, compatible with current ethology and evolutionary theory, which was supported by empirical research and relevant to clinicians in the treatment of children and caretakers" (2009, p. 113). Although anyone who has experienced it (which is to say virtually everyone) can certainly confirm its reality, the process by which attachment comes about differs for everyone and these issues are discussed further below.
How does attachment come about?
Attachment theory as propounded by Bowlby in 1969 provides a way to understand the manner in which attachment comes about in the mother/infant relationship (Colmer, Rutherford & Murphy, 2011). The quality of the attachment relationship is a formative element in the creation and sustainment of emotional development in the child (Colmer et al., 2011). From Bowlby's perspective, the basis for this level of emotional security is established early on during infancy. According to Colmer et al., though, "In the early years this theory had some critics, as it was perceived as meaning that mothers were solely responsible for their infants, which flew in the face of the feminist movement focused on emancipation of women" (2011, p. 17). It is here again that Ainsworth's research helped overcome these criticisms by expanding the concepts beyond seeking someone to blame. In this regard, Colmer et al. emphasize that, "For many, Bowlby's ideas were dismissed as 'mother blaming'. Subsequent work to develop attachment theory was undertaken by Ainsworth (1970s) and others which provided insights to how the theory could be used in a therapeutic way, moving beyond diagnosis" (2011, p. 18).
How is attachment experienced by the infant and primary caregiver?
According to Bowlby, the affectional ties that are forged between primary caregivers and their infants have a biological foundation that can be best understood from an evolutionary perspective. In this regard, Goldberg (1999) reports that, "Since the survival of human young depends on adult caregiving, our evolutionary history has selected a genetic bias among infants to behave in ways that maintain and enhance proximity to the caregiver and elicit caregiver attention and investment" (p. 307).
What happens between an infant and primary caregiver?
From the perspective of Austrian ethologist, Konrad Lorenz, the theory of imprinting can help explain what happens between an infant and primary caregiver. According to Adams (2012), Lorenz's theory "concerned irreversible learning very early in development. Young birds raised with humans imprinted upon, or were conditioned to, people, instead of to other birds, as love objects" (p. 314). In addition, research by Harlow (1958) also provided support for attachment theory by describing the role of the biological mother. According to Chantal and van IJzendoorn (2009), "Harlow's rhesus monkey experiments with wire-mesh and terry clothed artificial mother figures -- shows how the biological functions of child-bearing and feeding are separate from that of protection [Harlow, 1958])" (p. 29).
These experiments were clearly influential on Bowlby (1969/1982) because he emphasized early on that from his perspective, the biological mother is not necessarily the most important attachment figure and, his original work…