Attachment Theory


John Bowlby (1951), the father of attachment theory, noticed quite early on that it is essential for infants to have an unbroken attachment to their caregivers if they are to develop in appropriate and healthy ways.  He discovered through his work that if a child’s early attachment is disrupted, it could result in a number of ill effects as that child grows older (Bowlby, 1951).  He theorized that the primary reason for children’s emotional disturbances were the direct result of their experiences with their caregivers (Bretherton, 1992). 


He eventually included the idea that the caregiver needs to be emotionally, as well as physically, available to their children to create a secure attachment, which serves as a protective factor in the development.  Mary Ainsworth (1969;1985) expanded on Bowlby’s work, helping create categories of attachment and caregiver behavior that corresponded to these categories.  As attachment theory progressed, it was hypothesized that secure infants have caregivers that create sensitive and attuned interactions with their child, which helps their child emotionally regulate themselves as well as self-organize (Sroufe, 1979; 1996).  Disorganized infants do not usually experience such interactions with their caregivers.  Maltreatment has been linked to both disorganized attachment as well as with parents who have a history of unresolved trauma (Cicchetti, 1991; Main, 1990).