Attachment Theory

The "attachment system," as Bowlby coined it, is thought to have two primary purposes: sheltering vulnerable people from damage and regulating negative emotions in response to such events. Normal emotional reactions to situations that arise in partnerships are discussed in the normative section of attachment theory. Different people have different motivations, working models (i.e., interpersonal attitudes and expectations, as well as cognitive schemas), and coping mechanisms for dealing with emotionally charged events in their relationships, which is something we investigate in the individual differences section.

What is Attachment Theory?

Attachment theory states that an infant's attachment behaviour consists primarily of seeking reassurance from an attachment figure. Attachments are formed between 6-month-old and 2-year-old children and the adults who give them consistent care and are kind and responsive in social interactions. In the later stages of this period, a child's attachment figures (familiar people) become a secure haven for them. Interactions with parents shape a child's attachment patterns, which in turn shape the child's behaviour in subsequent relationships. A healthy response for an infant that has firmly bonded is separation anxiety or sorrow after the loss of a major attachment figure. Actions like these, which increase a baby's chance of survival, may have evolved over time.


Some infants start directing attachment behaviour (proximity seeking) toward more than one attachment figure as early as the first year of life, whereas the majority don't do so until the second year. The primary attachment figure is the last one in the set. The goal of the cognitive system known as "attachment" is to keep in touch with a kind, approachable person. When the attachment behaviour system is triggered in response to a perceived threat, an alert state is reached. Anxiety, here, means the fear of being apart from a significant other. When the figure is absent or unresponsive, the child may experience separation anxiety. A baby's fear, anger, and, eventually, grief and despair can be triggered by physical separation. The risk of being separated from the attachment figure decreases by the time a child is three or four years old. Teens and adults are particularly vulnerable to the psychological harm caused by prolonged periods of isolation, miscommunication, and emotional distance, all of which are common indicators of rejection or abandonment.


The primary goal of attachment behaviours is to keep the attachment figure in proximity.

Attachment habits emerge during a child's first six months. Babies communicate through their smiles, babbles, and cries in the first eight weeks of life. Babies at this age display these behaviours toward everyone within earshot, yet they quickly learn to differentiate between their many caretakers.

A child's ability to recognise familiar faces and respond positively to them develops between the ages of two and six months. The baby's interactions with its caregiver become more purposeful as it searches out secure environments in which to feel content.

Infants have a wide variety of attachment behaviours by the end of their first year. behaviour characterised by distress at separation from the care provider, elation upon their return, clinging in the face of fear, and following when possible.

Babies use their caregiver(s) as a "secure foundation" to venture out and discover their surroundings as they learn to walk. The infant's attachment system is soothed by the presence of the caregiver, which encourages exploration. An increase in attachment behaviour is observed when caregivers are unresponsive. A child's attachment behaviours are heightened at times of stress, worry, illness, and fatigue.

After two years, a child recognises the caretaker as an individual, fostering a deeper, more purposeful bond. Young children take the interests of others into account while making choices.

Here are the three pillars on which contemporary attachment theory rests

  • The drive to form relationships runs deep within every human being.

  • Controlling anxiety and other negative emotions to improve health.

  • Supporting development and adaptation

The Stages of Attachment

  • Ambivalent attachment − The Time Between Separation and Reunion Babies do not appear to favour one caregiver over another until about the third month of life. The infant's cues (crying, fussing, etc.) attract the attention of the caregiver, and the caregiver is encouraged to maintain proximity by the infant's favourable responses.

  • Avoidant attachment − Between the ages of 6 weeks and 7 months, children often start to show preferences for primary and secondary caregivers. Infants quickly learn to trust their caregivers because they know they will provide for all their needs. Babies, while still accepting care from others, show a preference for their primary caregiver and react positively to a familiar face.

  • Disorganized attachment − A child's connection to and preference for a primary caregiver often peak between the seventh and eleventh months of age. When they are away from their main attachment figure, they have separation anxiety. When they meet a new group of people, they have social anxiety, also called "stranger anxiety."

  • Secure attachment − Beginning at roughly 9 months of age, children start to form strong emotional bonds with caregivers besides their primary attachment figure. Grandparents, older siblings, and even stepparents are often welcomed into the fold.


Many attachment theory models are predicated on stressful assumptions, such as the idea that a child's primary attachment figure should be his or her mother rather than other adults, such as teachers or friends. To counter Salvador Minuchin's claim that attachment theory places too much emphasis on the mother-child bond, I would like to point out that "not only the child's mother or primary caregiver plays a crucial role, but the child's father, siblings, grandparents, and often cousins, aunts, and uncles as well." Nonetheless, when attachment theorists express their beliefs, I rarely hear about these other important people in a child's life.

Updated on: 04-Apr-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started