To Love or Not to Love is a Matter of Parent-Child Attachment Styles
A brief overview on attachment styles and their founding fathers
Translated from: 從親子依附看我「曖」你
What type of person are you?
The four different I described above originated from the well-known attachment theory introduced by two famous 20th century British and American psychologists, i.e. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Theoretically speaking, the attachment theory discusses four types of attachment styles (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1969):
Among the four types of attachment styles, John Bowlby (1907-1990) pointed out that people with the secure attachment style enjoy healthier relationships than people of the three other styles. Furthermore, securely attached people oftentimes turn out to be the ones helping those from the other three styles walk out from their unhealthy social styles. According to research, about 50-55% of the world’s population belong to the secure attachment group, while 20% of the total population are considered anxious in relationships with the other 15-20% of avoidant people and 5-10% disorganized individuals chasing behind.
Experimental Evidences for the Attachment Theory
In the 1960s when John Bowlby had yet to become the child psychiatrist we all recognize him as today, Bowlby was receiving medical training at a British clinic to which kids with behavioral problems were sent. During his training there, Bowlby discovered that these callous teenaged troublemakers all had one thing in common: they all came from dysfunctional families. By dysfunctional, Bowlby was referring to families in which the primary caregivers gave little notice or concern as to the physical or emotional needs of the child. For instance, when a baby is hungry and starts crying for food, the caregiver, however, ignores his/her need. As John Bowlby’s theory came to be backed by more research evidences, an American psychologist—Harry Harlow—decided to test that theory through an interesting experiment on primates so as to examine whether mammals like humans do indeed need intimate relationships. Now, let’s turn our eyes to this interesting experiment.
As we can see from the experiment, the little monkey went through a discovery phase where it confirms the harmlessness of the two fake dolls before actually approaching them. Despite the fact that the little monkey was smart enough to suck milk from the iron doll, it always rejoins the stuffed surrogate once its physical need is met. This phenomenon can especially be noticed when Harlow purposefully introduces a mechanical doll to surprise the monkey to see who it would choose for comfort. As expected, the little monkey immediately runs to the fluffy surrogate mother when shown the strange object. We may conclude then that for the little monkey the need for attachment weighs much more than the need to satisfy its hunger.
Right after John Bowlby published his notable work on attachment theory, Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999) who was very much attracted by his theory began testing out the theory on preschool children. To start out, Ainsworth called in parents who consented to play with their child in a room for observation. Not long after the mother and the child started playing, a stranger came into the room and tried to interact with the child. Soon, the mother was asked to leave the room leaving the child behind to play with the stranger. Then we see the child wailing when the mother was completely out of sight, and any comfort from the stranger was considered useless. Ainsworth repeated the same situation twice and was shown the same results, that the child reacted with fear and anxiety when the mother was gone and quickly came back to normal when the attachment figure returned. Ainsworth then argued that this child in the experiment showed the signs of secure attachment style, because children who are anxious or avoidant would either continue howling even when the mother returns or react coldly to the absence of the caregiver.
From all the empirical evidences and longitudinal studies conducted, John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Harry Harlow and many others became increasingly certain that a person’s early childhood does affect how he/she behaves in later adult relationships. Next week, I will dive deeper into the topic on attachment styles and share with you how people belonging to the four categories respond differently to intimacy. Perhaps you may have discovered an unhealthy attachment pattern for you or your partner, but I am going to be serious and honest with you, “Don’t worry! Early childhood experiences do shape our attachment style but that’s not the end to it all. We still can reshape our attachment models through serious efforts!” So, stay tuned for next week if you want to learn out more on the topic!
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