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THE ORIGINS OF ATTACHMENT THEORY: JOHN BOWLBY AND MARY AINSWORTH

2014-9-8 16:06| 发布者: 晓飞| 查看: 219| 评论: 0

摘要: THE ORIGINS OF ATTACHMENT THEORY: JOHN BOWLBY AND MARY AINSWORTHReference: DevelopmentalPsychology(1992), 28, 759-775.THE ORIGINS OFATTACHMENTTHEORY:JOHNBOWLBYAND MARYAINSWORTHINGE BRETHERTONAttachmen ...
THE ORIGINS OF ATTACHMENT THEORY: JOHN BOWLBY AND MARY AINSWORTH
Reference: Developmental Psychology (1992), 28, 759-775.

THE ORIGINS OF ATTACHMENT THEORY:
JOHN BOWLBY AND MARY AINSWORTH


INGE BRETHERTON

Attachment theory is the joint work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth (Ainsworth &
Bowlby, 1991 ). Drawing on concepts from ethology, cybernetics, information processing,
developmental psychology, and psychoanalysts, John Bowlby formulated the basic tenets of
the theory. He thereby revolutionized our thinking about a child’s tie to the mother and its
disruption through separation, deprivation, and bereavement. Mary Ainsworth’s innovative
methodology not only made it possible to test some of Bowlby’s ideas empirically hut also
helped expand the theory itself and is responsible for some of the new directions it is now
taking. Ainsworth contributed the concept of the attachment figure as a secure base from
which an infant can explore the world. In addition, she formulated the concept of maternal
sensitivity to infant signals and its role in the development of infant-mother attachment
patterns.

The ideas now guiding attachment theory have a long developmental history. Although
Bowlby and Ainsworth worked independently of each other during their early careers, both
were influenced by Freud and other psychoanalytic thinkers-directly in Bowlby’s case,
indirectly in Ainsworth’s. In this chapter, I document the origins of ideas that later became
central to attachment theory. I then discuss the subsequent period of theory building and
consolidation. Finally, I review some of the new directions in which the theory is currently
developing and speculate on its future potential In taking this retrospective developmental
approach to the origins of attachment theory, I am reminded of Freud’s (1920/1955) remark:

I would like to thank Mary Ainsworth and Ursula Bowlby for helpful input on a draft of this article. I am also
grateful for insightful comments by three very knowledgeable reviewers.

Reference: Developmental Psychology (1992), 28, 759-775. Reprinted in from R. Parke, P. Ornstein, J.
Reiser, & C. Zahn-Waxler (Eds.) (1994). A century of developmental psychology. (Chapter 15, pp. 431-471).


So long as we trace the development from its final outcome backwards, the chain of events
appears continuous, and we feel we have gained an insight which is completely satisfactory
or even exhaustive. But if we proceed in the reverse way, if we start from the premises
inferred from the analysis and try to follow these up to the final results, then we no longer
get the impression of an inevitable sequence of events which could not have otherwise been
determined. (p. 167)

In elucidating how each idea and methodological advance became a stepping stone for the
next, my retrospective account of the origins of attachment theory makes the process of theory
building seem planful and orderly. No doubt this was the case to some extent, but it may often not
have seemed so to the protagonists at the time.

ORIGINS

John Bowlby

After graduating from the University of Cambridge in 1928, where he received rigorous
scientific training and some instruction in what is now called developmental psychology, Bowlby
performed volunteer work at a school for maladjusted children while reconsidering his career
goals. His experiences with two children at the school set his professional life on course. One was
a very isolated, remote, affectionless teenager who had been expelled from his previous school for
theft and had had no stable mother figure. The second child was an anxious boy of 7 or 8 who
trailed Bowlby around and who was known as his shadow (Ainsworth, 1974). Persuaded by this
experience of the effects of early family relationships on personality development, Bowlby
decided to embark on a career as a child psychiatrist (Senn, 1977h).

Concurrently with his studies in medicine and psychiatry, Bowlby undertook training at the
British Psychoanalytic Institute. During this period Melanie Klein was a major influence there (the
institute had three groups: Group A sided with Freud, Group B sided with Klein, and the Middle
Group sided with neither). Bowlby was exposed to Kleinian (Klein, 1932) ideas through his
training analyst, Joan Riviere, a close associate of Klein, and eventually through supervision by
Melanie Klein herself. Although he acknowledges Riviere and Klein for grounding him in the


object-relations approach to psychoanalysis, with its emphasis on early relationships and the
pathogenic potential of loss (Bowlby, 1969, p. xvii), he had grave reservations about aspects of
the Kleinian approach to child psychoanalysis. Klein held that children’s emotional problems are
almost entirely due to fantasies generated from internal conflict between aggressive and libidinal
drives, rather than to events in the external world, She hence forbade Bowlby to talk to the
mother of a 3-year-old whom he analyzed under her supervision (Bowlby, 1987). This was
anathema to Bowlby who, in the course of his postgraduate training with two psychoanalytically
trained social workers at the London Child Guidance Clinic, had come to believe that actual
family experiences were a much more important, if not the basic, cause of emotional disturbance.

Bowlby’s plan to counter Klein’s ideas through research is manifest in an early theoretical
paper (1940) in which he proposed that, like nurserymen, psychoanalysts should study the nature
of the organism, the properties of the soil, and their interaction (p. 23). He goes on to suggest
that, for mothers with parenting difficulties,

a weekly interview in which their problems are approached analytically and traced hack to
childhood has sometimes been remarkably effective. Having once been helped to recognize
and recapture the feelings which she herself had as a child and to find that they are accepted
tolerantly and understandingly, a mother will become increasingly sympathetic and tolerant
toward the same things in her child. (Bowlby, 1940, p. 23)

These quotations reveal Bowlby’s early theoretical and clinical interest in the intergenerational
transmission of attachment relations and in the possibility of helping children by helping parents.
Psychoanalytic object-relations theories later proposed by Fairbain (1952) and Winnicott (1965)
were congenial to Bowlby, hut his thinking had developed independently of them.

Bowlby’s first empirical study, based on case notes from the London Child Guidance Clinic,
dates from this period. Like the boy at the school for maladjusted children, many of the clinic
patients were affectionless and prone to stealing. Through detailed examination of 44 cases,
Bowlby was able to link their symptoms to histories of maternal deprivation and separation.

Although World War II led to an interruption in Bowlby’s budding career as a practicing
child psychiatrist, it laid further groundwork for his career as a researcher. His assignment was to
collaborate on officer selection procedures with a group of distinguished colleagues from the
Tavistock Clinic in London, an experience that gave Bowlby a level of methodological and


statistical expertise then unusual for a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. This training is obvious in
the revision of his paper, “Forty-Four Juvenile Thieves: Their Characters and Home Lives”
(Bowlby, 1944), which includes statistical tests as well as detailed case histories.

At the end of World War II, Bowlby was invited to become head of the Children’s
Department at the Tavistock Clinic. In line with his earlier ideas on the importance of family
relationships in child therapy, he promptly renamed it the Department for Children and Parents.
Indeed, in what is credited as the first published paper in family therapy, Bowlby (1949) describes
how he was often able to achieve clinical breakthroughs by interviewing parents about their
childhood experiences in the presence of their troubled children.

To Bowlby’s chagrin, however, much of the clinical work in the department was done by
people with a Kleinian orientation, who, he says, regarded his emphasis on actual family
interaction patterns as not particularly relevant. He therefore decided to found his own research
unit whose efforts were focused on mother-child separation. Because separation is a clear-cut and
undeniable event, its effects on the child and the parent- child relationship were easier to
document than more subtle influences of parental and familial interaction.

Mary Ainsworth

Mary Ainsworth (nee Salter), 6 years younger than Bowlby, finished graduate study at the
University of Toronto just before World War II. courses with William Blatz had introduced her
to security theory (Blatz, 1940), which both reformulated and challenged Freudian ideas, though
Blatz chose not to recognize his debt to Freud because of the anti-Freudian climate that pervaded
the University of Toronto at that time (Ainsworth, 1983; Blatz, 1966).

One of the major tenets of security theory is that infants and young children need to develop
a secure dependence on parents before launching out into unfamiliar situations. In her dissertation,
entitled “An Evaluation of Adjustment Based Upon the Concept of Security,” Mary Salter
(1940) states it this way:

Familial security in the early stages is of a dependent type and forms a basis from which
the individual can work out gradually, forming new skills and interests in other fields.
Where familial security is lacking, the individual is handicapped by the lack o~ what
might be called a secure base italics added from which to work. (p. 45)


Interestingly, Mary Salter’s dissertation research included an analysis of students’ autobiographical
narratives in support of the validity of her paper-and-pencil self-report scales of familial and
extrafamilial security, foreshadowing her later penchant for narrative methods of data collection.
Indeed, few researchers realize the enormous experience in instrument development and diagnostics
she brought to attachment research.

Like Bowlby’s, Mary Salter’s professional career was shaped by her duties as a military
officer during World War 11 (in the Canadian Women’s Army corps). After the war, as a faculty
member at the University of Toronto, she set out to deepen her clinical skills in response to the
request to teach courses in personality assessment. To prepare herself for this task, she signed up
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