Learning Theorist – John Bowlby

By Dr. Lynne Hartman


Attachment Theorist John Bowlby was the first attachment theorist to describe attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Cherry,2019 p.1). Bowlby was interested in understanding the anxiety and distress children experience when they are separated from their primary caregiver. Early theorists thought that attachments were learned from being fed from the caregiver. Bowlby noticed that even when the child was fed it did not take away the anxiety the child felt when he/she was separated from the primary caregiver. He found that the attachment behaviors have clear-cut behavioral and motivational relationships. Bowlby found when babies were frightened, the babies wanted to seek comfort by their caregiver. He also believed that the earliest bonds that are formed by the child make a lasting impact on the child’s life. He also found that children are born with an inherent drive to seek attachment from caregivers. Attachment is the relationship between the baby and the primary caregiver. The quality of the attachment varies among children and caregivers. A secure attachment is that the baby feels safe and protected. The secure attachment gives the child a better foundation to be trusting and and develop a healthy awareness of themselves (Robinson, Saisan, Smith and Segal, 2019). Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds have an enormous impact during the child’s whole life. Bowlby also felt the child had an inherent push to form attachments with caregivers. Bowlby showed that when the caregiver was nurturing and responsive to the needs of the child, the child formed secure attachments. The secure attachment creates trust in the baby that the caregiver will provide for them to meet the their needs. Attachment is the foundation for the child to build relationships with other people when they grow.


Mary Ainsworth is a psychologist that expanded Bowlby’s ideas of attachment to show the effects on attachment on behaviors. She developed three major styles of attachment: secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment and avoidant-insecure. In 1986 researchers Main and Soloman added a fourth attachment style called disorganized-insecure attachment. She also confirmed that children who have a secure attachment as infants tend to have stronger self-esteem and better self-reliance as they develop. The children also tend to be more independent and do better in school and have a higher quality of relationships throughout life.


The ambivalent attachment is when the children become very distressed when a parent / caregiver leaves. This affects about 7-15% of U.S. children and it usually results from poor parental availability. This makes it so those children cannot depend on their primary caregiver to be there when they need them. Avoidant attachment the child tends to avoid the parents or caregiver and does not show preference between caregivers and a stranger. This can be the result of abuse or neglectful caregiver. Children that are punished for relying on a caregiver will learn to avoid seeking the help from the caregiver. Disorganized attachment is when the children are confused and have a mix of behaviors, seemingly disoriented, dazed or confused. The children may avoid or resist a parent. The lack of clear attachment patterns is usually linked to inconsistent caregiver behavior. Many children that have lived in an orphanage have this attachment problem since they have multiple caregivers. The disorganized attachment is because the child is not sure if their needs are going to be met because of the inconsistency of the caregiving. Secure attachments are when the children can depend on their caregiver coming when they are distressed and are separated. They find joy when bringing the two together again. The child may be upset but feels reassured that the caregiver will return. Providing Quality caregiving for the child to develop secure attachment. The caregiver needs to respond quickly and consistently with the children so the child learns that they can depend on the people who are responsible for their care. Providing for babies to feel secure and have attachment is for the caregiver to be present and attend to the needs of the baby.


References

Cherry, K(2019). Bowlby & Ainsworth: What is attachment theory? The importance of early emotional bonds.VeryWellMind.com Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-attachment-theory-2795337

Robinson, L, Saisan, J., Smith, M., and Segal, J.,( 2019). Building a secure attachment bond with your baby. HelpGuide.com Retrieved from: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/parenting-family/building-a-secure-attachment-bond-with-your-baby.htm

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