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About this book

Launching Palgrave's interdisciplinary Professional Keywords series, this reader-friendly reference guide distils the study of attachment into digestible, yet authoritative, chunks. With over 60 alphabetized entries, it is the perfect introduction to the key concepts, debates and thinkers within this increasingly exploration of human behaviour.

Table of Contents


Although attachment theory is more commonly discussed with regards to child adult relationships, from the outset of his work Bowlby recognized that attachment could be a useful framework for understanding close human relationships from ‘the cradle to the grave’. However, it was not until the 1980s that attachment researchers really began to focus on adult-to-adult relationships. As with any discussion of attachment, it is important to be clear on the distinction between an attachment and other kinds of bonding and of the key differences between adult-to-adult attachments and childto-adult attachments. With regards to the former, an attachment is a specifi c type of bond, but attachment is not a synonym for bond or for relationship. For example, an adult may have a bond of friendship with another adult but may not have an attachment relationship to that friend.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


However, when discussing relationships within the context of attachment theory, the word ‘attachment’ is not a synonym for bond (or bonding). Bonding is a more general term, used with reference to many different kinds of relationship, whereas attachment is more specifi c, describing the use of another human being as a secure base and as the focus of proximity-seeking and safe-haven behaviours at times of heightened anxiety. Within attachment relationships, there is a sense of ‘turning to someone else for safety’ and for ‘felt security’.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


The Child Attachment Interview (CAI), developed in 2003 by Mary Target, Peter Fonagy and Yael Shmueli-Goetz, is a way of assessing attachment relationships in middle childhood (ages approximately 8 13-years of age). The CAI was developed in response to a perceived ‘measurement gap’ in the study of attachment relationships for this group of children. The measures that already existed for younger children were either behavioural (as with the Strange Situation Procedure ) or representational (as with Story Stem Completion ), in contrast to the Adult Attachment Interview , which is a more direct method (in terms of its administration, if not in the analysis and coding). There was and still remains some debate about the age at which it is most helpful to move from representational measures of attachment to more direct measures.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


When considering the attachment relationships of disabled children, one must be careful about attributing any apparent differences (between the attachment relationships and experiences of disabled children and those of non-disabled children) to any individual impairment without fi rst considering whether and how any such differences might be related to broader caregiving and social systems. Thus, when we consider the research which has found disabled children are more likely to have insecure attachments to their attachment fi gures than non-disabled children, it is right to ask why this might be the case.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Whether or not attachment patterns are continuous and stable over time remains an important question for attachment researchers. Although attachment security (or insecurity) is conceptualized as being a quality of particular attachment relationships, rather than as an individual trait or aspect of temperament , nevertheless attachment theory predicts an individuals attachment pattern will stay fairly consistent over time (assuming a consistent caregiving environment). This is not to say, for example, that a child will always exhibit the same attachment behaviour but it does suggest that the underlying approach or strategy for dealing with attachmentrelated anxiety and stress will tend to remain the same and there is some evidence to support this view.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Historically, in many areas of research regarding child development, the focus has tended to be on mothers to the unfortunate exclusion of fathers (and of other potential primary carers). In a large study regarding infant attachment, published in 1997, and in a follow-up paper, van IJzendoorn and De Wolff noted that In our meta-analysis on the association between sensitivity and attachment, fathers are conspicuously absent (and) the dearthof studies on the role of the father in infants development of attachment should unfortunately be considered a matter of fact instead of an opinion.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Attachment is a universal human phenomenon. Nevertheless, there are some qualitative differences in the ways attachment may be expressed and experienced by different individuals these differences may relate to factors such as d isability emperament or more broadly to genetic infl uences on attachment (although caution is required when attributing attachment-related differences to the influence of individual or even relational characteristics without understanding these as being operationa within particular social settings and in relation to the adequate or inadequate provision of social and environmental support). Whether there are gender differences in the expression of attachment relationships or in how they are perceived is less clear.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


As Bowlby was developing his theory of attachment, he became aware of the work of Harry Harlow, an American psychologist whose primary research interest was the effect of social isolation and separation on primates. Working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1930s, the experiments that Harlow was responsible for strike modern sensibilities as completely unethical. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, the results of these experiments were helpful to Bowlby as he developed his early thinking about attachment and so they remain an important reference point in understanding how the theory was fi rst developed.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Most children develop a secure attachment relationship with their attachment fi gure(s) but the fact that a signifi cant minority develop insecure attachment relationships was one of the key early fi ndings in the history of attachment theory and research . Using the Strange Situation Procedure , researchers discovered that insecure attachment could take one of two primary forms ambivalent-resistant attachment or avoidant attachment . These two types of attachment, whilst different in some signifi cant ways, also share one crucial similarity they both indicate that the child will experience a sense of anxiety about the availability of their attachment fi gure and, hence, that the child fi nds it diffi cult to achieve felt security with them. Later researchers would go on to describe an additional element of more extreme examples of insecure attachment known as disorganized attachment .
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Kinship care also known as friends and family care usually refers to formal or informal situations in which children are cared for by someone other than their birth parents, most often (but notalways) a member of their wider family. This may include situations when the child has been removed from the care of his or her birth parents with a court order. As these situations usually involve a child moving from the care of their birth parent/s into the care of adults who may or may not be related to the child and who may or may not have had a signifi cant involvement with the child prior to the move, this raises axiomatically questions as to the potential effect on the childs attachment relationships and the expression of their attachment needs.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Bowlby wrote that attachment characterizes human relationships from the cradle to the grave and he speculated that during later life, attachment relationships might form between members of the older generation and members of young generations, reversing some of the dynamics in early life. In other words, older people may form attachment relationships with their adult children (as well as maintaining attachment relationships they have already, such as romantic attachments with partners). However, despite Bowlbys interest in later life attachment, the majority of attachment research in the past 50 years or so has tended to focus on childhood more so than on adult attachment .
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


As attachment theory has grown in popularity, so various measures of attachment have been developed in order to investigate, measure and describe different aspects of attachment in both adults and children. The fi rst systematic measure of attachment often referred to as the gold standard is the Strange Situation Procedure, devised by Mary Ainsworth and colleagues. Other relatively well-developed measures of attachment include the Adult Attachment Interview , Child Attachment Interview and Story Stem Completion tasks. A suite of self-report measures of attachment has also been developed, particularly for use with adults. As these measures are all discussed within their own dedicated sections, this chapter will discuss the nature of attachment measures more broadly.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


The debate regarding the relative infl uence of nature and nurture on human development is an age-old one. The idea that humans might be primarily, or even exclusively, a product of their environments (nurture) can be found in the writings of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. The concept of a baby as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, was further developed in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries and is perhaps best captured in the Jesuit motto Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the ma (meaning that any child could be moulded by the age of seven, depending on their environment). More recently, in the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud argued that many adult personality traits result primarily from the childs early family history.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Object relations theory is a term used to describe a relatively diverse group of psychological theories in which people are viewed as having an internal, often unconscious, construction of relationships.Object relations theory postulates that our external experience of relationships becomes internalized in our (unconscious)mind, within which mental representations of others (objects) and of the self (the subject) interact and become intertwined. In this fashion we all carry unconscious impressions of our relationships and of ourselves in relation to others and these mental constructs infl uence our relationships in the external world (see memory). Another key idea within object relations theory is that people have a primary need for close relationships with other people in order to realize an understanding of the self.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Parenting may be commonly defi ned as simply being the mother or father of a child or children and in many ways, parenting can appear to be supremely uncomplicated, having clearly been a feature of human behaviour and society since humans fi rst evolved. Indeed in a much broader sense, parenting behaviour has surely been in existence since the fi rst organisms evolved reproductive strategies reliant on having relatively few offspring and providing a relatively high investment in their survival. However, as with many aspects of human behaviour, what may at fi rst appear to be an uncomplicated endeavour very quickly becomes more nuanced and complex the more one considers it.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Research into the many different facets of attachment has led to the development of a variety of research methods, many of which are discussed elsewhere in this book, such as the Adult Attachment Interview , Child Attachment Interview , self-report measures of attachment , Story Stem Completion and the Strange Situation Procedure . Attachment-related research methods for young children tend to be based on observations of their behaviour, as is the case for the Strange Situation Procedure. However, the Strange Situation Procedure is usually only suitable for children aged between around 9 and 18 months of age and so other methods of observation sfor older children have also been developed.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


If you agreed with these statements (see self-report measures of attachment), you may have a secure state of mind with regards to attachment. According to several large-scale and cross-cultural studies of typical populations, around 60 65 per cent of adults have a secure state of mind (Bakermans-Kranenburg and van IJzendoorn, 2009) and around 60 65 per cent of children have secure attachment relationships (van IJzendoorn and Kroonenberg, 1988). There are some cultural differences in these distributions between different populations but for the most part, these are not particularly signifi cant.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Temperament refers to innate elements of personality, rather than those learned through experience, imitation or modelling. Although there is no consensus on exactly what elements of our personalities are in fact innate, various suggestions have been made including adaptability, introversion or extroversion, distractibility, mood and sensitivity. One of the better-known and most well-evidenced models of human personality is known as the Big Five or OCEAN, incorporating five non-overlapping domains of personality openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Openness to experience relates to the appreciation of novelty and variety or the display of curiosity about new things. Thus, people with less openness to experience will tend to prefer routine and familiarity.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


When a physical injury is sustained, for example, a broken leg or fractured skull, it may be described as a trauma (to the body). Similarly, an emotional shock, especially one that has a lasting effect, may also be described as a trauma. In the United States, and possibly in the United Kingdom as well, it is considered, at least by some, that childhood trauma including abuse and neglect is probably the single most important public health challenge (Benamer and White, 2008, p. 45). However, although trauma can be caused by events other than abuse or neglect, there may be an important difference in the subjective experience of trauma when it is caused by the actions (or inactions) of a person who is meant to care for, protect and nurture us. Emotional neglect and abuse by an attachment figure, for example, may be far more traumatic than even very catastrophic physical events.
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


One of the more long-standing debates regarding attachment theory is whether and how the knowledge and expertise obtained from attachment-related research might be applied in clinical practice. In 2003, a group of researchers from the Center for Child and Family Studies at Leiden University undertook a meta-analysis in order to try and understand what kind of interventions had been more or less effective. They found that, overall, the more effective interventions were those based on a small to moderate number of sessions (fewer than 16) and which focused on observable behaviour: hence the title of their paper Less Is More. They also found that interventions that were more effective in enhancing the attunement and sensitivity of the attachment fi gure were the most effective in enhancing the attachment security of the child (an experimental finding which supports the hypothesis that sensitivity has a causal role in shaping attachment security).
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings


Empathy is a key characteristic within attachment relationships, with higher levels of empathy being associated with secure attachment and lower levels of empathy with insecure attachment . Empathy is commonly defi ned as an ability to understand and share the feelings of others. However, Simon Baron-Cohen has defi ned empathy in more detail as follows: Empathy occurs when we suspend our single-minded focus of attention, and instead adopt a double-minded focus of attention. Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion. (p. 18, 2011)
David Wilkins, David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings
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