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Free Essays On John Bowlby

Edward John Mostyn BowlbyCBE, MA (Cantab), BChir, MD, MRCP, FRCP, FRCPsych, Hon ScD (; 26 February 1907 – 2 September 1990) was a British psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, notable for his interest in child development and for his pioneering work in attachment theory. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Bowlby as the 49th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.[1][2][3]

Family background[edit]

Bowlby was born in London with upper-middle-income family. He was the fourth of six children and was brought up by a nanny in the British fashion of his class at that time. The Bowlby family hired one nanny who was in charge of raising the children in a separate nursery in the house.[4] Nanny Friend took care of the infants and generally had two other nursemaids to help her raise the children.[4] As a result, Bowlby was raised primarily by nursemaid Minnie who acted as a mother figure to him and his siblings.[4]

His father, Sir Anthony Alfred Bowlby, was surgeon to the King's Household, with a tragic history: at age five, Sir Anthony's father, Thomas William Bowlby, was killed while serving as a war correspondent in the Second Opium War.[5]

Bowlby's parents met at a party in 1897 through a mutual friend.[4] About one year after meeting, Mary (age 31) and Anthony (age 43) decided to get married in 1898.[4] The start of their marriage was said to be difficult due to conflict with Anthony's sister and physical separation between Mary and Anthony.[4] In order to resolve this prolonged separation, Mary decided to visit her husband for six months while leaving her first born daughter Winnie in the care of her nanny.[4] This separation between Mary and her children was a theme found in all six of her children's lives as they were primarily raised by the nanny and nursemaids.[4]

Normally, Bowlby saw his mother only one hour a day after teatime, though during the summer she was more available. Like many other mothers of her social class, she considered that parental attention and affection would lead to dangerous spoiling of the children. Bowlby was lucky in that the nanny in his family was present throughout his childhood.[6] When Bowlby was almost four years old, his beloved nursemaid Minnie who was actually his primary caregiver in his early years, left the family. Later, he was to describe this as tragic as the loss of a mother. Bowlby was extremely affected by the loss of his nursemaid Minnie as she acted as his mother substitute in a warm and nurturing way like a mother.[4] When nursemaid Minnie left the family, Bowlby and his siblings were under the primary care of Nanny Friend who was less than nurturing with Bowlby and his siblings due to her cold and sarcastic nature.[4] This early loss of Bowlby's "mother-figure" fuelled his interest later in life around what is now known as attachment theory.

During the First World War, Bowlby's father left to go serve the King in the war.[4] His father came home once or twice a year and had little contact with him and his siblings.[4] Bowlby's mother received several letters while Anthony was serving in the war; however, she did not share any of the letters with her children and because of that, Bowlby had no contact with his father.[4] This was also another impactful event in Bowlby's childhood that could have potentially influenced his key research focus on separation.

At the age of ten, he was sent off to boarding school, as was common for boys of his social status. Bowlby’s parents decided to send both him and his older brother Tony off to the preparatory boarding school in order to protect them from the bombing attacks due to the ongoing war.[4] In his 1973 work Separation: Anxiety and Anger, he revealed that he regarded it as a terrible time for him. He later said, "I wouldn't send a dog away to boarding school at age seven".[7] However, earlier Bowlby had considered boarding schools appropriate for children aged eight and older. In 1951, he wrote:

If the child is maladjusted, it may be useful for him to be away for part of the year from the tensions which produced his difficulties, and if the home is bad in other ways the same is true. The boarding school has the advantage of preserving the child's all-important home ties, even if in slightly attenuated form, and, since it forms part of the ordinary social pattern of most Western communities today [1951], the child who goes to boarding-school will not feel different from other children. Moreover, by relieving the parents of the children for part of the year, it will be possible for some of them to develop more favorable attitudes toward their children during the remainder.[8]

Furthermore, Bowlby experienced the tragic loss of his beloved godfather during his childhood, which was another theme of separation and loss that could have contributed to his focus on separation research later on in his career.[4]

He married Ursula Longstaff, the daughter of a surgeon, on 16 April 1938, and they had four children, including Sir Richard Bowlby, who succeeded his uncle as third Baronet.[9]

Bowlby died at his summer home on the Isle of Skye, Scotland.


In an interview with Dr. Milton Stenn in 1977,[10] Bowlby explained that his career started off in the medical direction as he was following in his surgeon father's footsteps. His father was a well-known surgeon in London and Bowlby explained that he was encouraged by his father to study medicine at Cambridge. Therefore, he followed his father's suggestion, but was not fully interested in anatomy and natural sciences that he was reading about. However, during his time at Trinity College, he became particularly interested in developmental psychology which led him to give up medicine by his third year. When Bowlby gave up medicine, he took a teaching opportunity at a school called Priory Gates for six months where he worked with maladjusted children. Bowlby explained that one of the reasons why he went to work at Priory Gates was because of an intelligent staff member, John Alford. Bowlby explained that the experience at Priory Gates was extremely influential on him "It suited me very well because I found it interesting. And when I was there, I learned everything that I have known; it was the most valuable six months of my life, really. It was analytically oriented".[11] He further explained that the experience at Priory Gates was extremely influential to his career in research as he learned that the problems of today should be understood and dealt with at a developmental level.

Bowlby studied psychology and pre-clinical sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge, winning prizes for outstanding intellectual performance. After Cambridge, he worked with maladjusted and delinquent children until, at the age of twenty-two, he enrolled at University College London Hospital in London. At twenty-six, he qualified in medicine. While still in medical school, he enrolled himself in the Institute for Psychoanalysis. Following medical school, he trained in adult psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital. In 1936, aged 30, he qualified as a psychoanalyst.

During the first six months of World War II, Bowlby worked at a clinic in Canonbury in the child psychiatry unit.[10] Later on in the war, Bowlby became a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps, where he conducted research on psychological methods of officer selection (which contributed to the creation of War Office Selection Boards) and where he came into contact with members of the Tavistock Clinic. Alongside his job in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Bowlby explained that he also worked for the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) during the months of May and June in 1940 where he dealt with tragic war neurosis cases.[10] Additionally, the children that were being treated at the Canonbury clinic were evacuated to the child guidance clinic in Cambridge, due to the air raids from the War.[10] Bowlby explained in an interview that he spent time going back and forth from Cambridge to London, where he would see patients in private.[10] From this experience, Bowlby was able to work with several children at Cambridge that were evacuated from London and separated from their families and nannies. This actually extended his research interested on separation that he was focused on pre-war.

During the first winter of World War II, Bowlby began working on his first published work Forty-four Juvenile Thieves.[10] Although he began working on this book at the beginning of the Second World War, it was not published until 1944 (while being published again in 1946), close to when the war was finishing. Bowlby studied several children during his time at the Canonbury clinic, and developed a research project based on case studies of the children’s behaviors and family histories.[10] Bowlby examined 44 delinquent children from Canonbury who had a history of stealing and compared them to "controls" from Canonbury that were being treated for various reasons but did not have a history of stealing.[12] Bowlby categorized the delinquent children into six different character types which included: normal, depressed, circular, hyperthymic, affectionless, and schizoid.[12]

One of Bowlby's main findings through his research with these children was that 17 out of the 44 thieves experienced early and prolonged separation (six months or more) from their primary caregiver before the age of five.[12] In comparison, only two out of the 44 children who did not steal had experienced prolonged separation from their primary care giver before the age of five.[12] More specifically, Bowlby found that 12 out of the 14 children were categorized as affectionless were found to have experienced complete and prolonged separation before the age of five.[12] These findings were important and brought more attention to the impact of a child's early environmental experiences on their healthy development.

After the war, he was deputy director of the Tavistock Clinic, and from 1950, Mental Health Consultant to the World Health Organization. Because of his previous work with maladapted and delinquent children, he became interested in the development of children and began work at the Child Guidance Clinic in London, which was also known as the East London Child Guidance Clinic. Located in Islington, it was founded by the Jewish Health Organisation in 1927 and was the first children's psychiatric facility in the UK and possibly Europe.[13] His interest was probably increased by a variety of wartime events involving separation of young children from familiar people. These included the rescue of Jewish children by the Kindertransport arrangements, the evacuation of children from London to keep them safe from air raids, and the use of group nurseries to allow mothers of young children to contribute to the war effort.[14] Bowlby was interested from the beginning of his career in the problem of separation, the wartime work of Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham on evacuees, and the work of René Spitz with orphans. By the late 1950s, he had accumulated a body of observational and theoretical work to indicate the fundamental importance for human development of attachment from birth.[7]

Bowlby was interested in finding out the patterns of family interaction involved in both healthy and pathological development. He focused on how attachment difficulties were transmitted from one generation to the next. In his development of attachment theory, he proposed the idea that attachment behaviour was an evolutionary survival strategy for protecting the infant from predators. Mary Ainsworth, a student of Bowlby's, further extended and tested his ideas. She played the primary role in suggesting that several attachment styles existed.

The six most important experiences for Bowlby's future work and the development of attachment theory were:

  • Bowlby's teaching experience at Priory Gates School, where he worked with maladapted and delinquent children.[10]
  • His opportunity to work with children who were evacuated from their families due to the war, leading to his work on the forty-four juvenile thieves.[10]
  • Mary Ainsworth's structured observation technique known as strange situation and the development of the different types of attachment styles as well as her contributions and introduction of the secure base to Bowlby.[15]
  • James Robertson (in 1952) in making the documentary film A Two-Year Old Goes to the Hospital, which was one of the films about "young children in brief separation".[citation needed] The documentary illustrated the impact of loss and suffering experienced by young children separated from their primary caretakers. This film was instrumental in a campaign to alter hospital restrictions on visiting by parents. In 1952 when he and Robertson presented their film A Two Year Old Goes to Hospital to the British Psychoanalytical Society, psychoanalysts did not accept that a child would mourn or experience grief on separation but instead saw the child's distress as caused by elements of unconscious fantasies (in the film because the mother was pregnant).[7]
  • Melanie Klein during his psychoanalytic training. She was his supervisor; however, they had different views about the role of the mother in the treatment of a three-year-old boy. Specifically and importantly, Klein stressed the role of the child's fantasies about his mother, but Bowlby emphasised the actual history of the relationship. Bowlby's views—that children were responding to real life events and not unconscious fantasies—were rejected by psychoanalysts, and Bowlby was effectively ostracised by the psychoanalytic community. He later expressed the view that his interest in real-life experiences and situations was "alien to the Kleinian outlook".[7] Furthermore, Bowlby explained in an interview with Milton Stenn in 1977 that the psychoanalytic community did not accept his developmental theories as they were completely different from the unconscious fantasy theories surrounding psychoanalysis during that time.[10] He further explained that:

There were certain groups who took to it with great enthusiasm, other groups were directly lukewarm and other hostile, each profession reacted differently. The social workers took to it with enthusiasm; the psychoanalysts treated it with caution, curiously and for me infuriatingly pediatricians were initially hostile but subsequently many of them became very supporting; adult psychiatrists totally uninterested, totally ignorant, totally uninterested.[16]

  • Donald Winnicott, who was a pediatrician and child psychoanalyst, had an immense influence on Bowlby's work and career. Bowlby and Winnicott had several similarities within their professional work as they were the first to explain the importance of social interactions at an early age.[17] Both Bowlby and Winnicott argued that humans come into the world with a predisposition to be sensitive to social interactions and to need these interactions in order to have a healthy development.[17] However, although Bowlby and Winnicott's ideas were similar, they took vastly different approaches when dealing with their research.[10] For example, Bowlby was interested in how a child's environment is internalized and affects the child's development, while Winnicott was more interested in "the way the inner world engages with and thereby is affected by external events".[18] Despite their differences in approaching their research interests, Bowlby explained in an interview that his research for the World Health Organization influenced policies regarding child care; however, none of this would have been possible without the help of Winnicott.[10] Winnicott worked more at a clinical level than Bowlby which influenced several social workers as he spent his career working to change policies.[10] Bowlby explained that Winnicott is one of the more important individuals who was able to push Bowlby's work to change policies.[10]

Maternal deprivation[edit]

Main article: Maternal deprivation

In 1949, Bowlby's earlier work on delinquent and affectionless children and the effects of hospitalised and institutionalised care led to his being commissioned to write the World Health Organization's report on the mental health of homeless children in post-war Europe.[19] The result was Maternal Care and Mental Health published in 1951.[20]

Bowlby drew together such limited empirical evidence as existed at the time from across Europe and the US. His main conclusions, that "the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment" and that not to do so may have significant and irreversible mental health consequences, were both controversial and influential. The 1951 WHO publication was highly influential in causing widespread changes in the practices and prevalence of institutional care for infants and children, and in changing practices relating to the visiting of infants and small children in hospitals by parents. The theoretical basis was controversial in many ways. He broke with psychoanalytic theories which saw infants' internal life as being determined by fantasy rather than real life events. Some critics profoundly disagreed with the necessity for maternal (or equivalent) love to function normally,[21] or that the formation of an ongoing relationship with a child was an important part of parenting.[22] Others questioned the extent to which his hypothesis was supported by the evidence. There was criticism of the confusion of the effects of privation (no primary attachment figure) and deprivation (loss of the primary attachment figure) and in particular, a failure to distinguish between the effects of the lack of a primary attachment figure and the other forms of deprivation and understimulation that may affect children in institutions.[23]

The monograph was also used for political purposes to claim any separation from the mother was deleterious to discourage women from working and leaving their children in daycare by governments concerned about maximising employment for returned and returning servicemen.[23] In 1962 WHO published Deprivation of maternal care: A Reassessment of its Effects to which Mary Ainsworth, Bowlby's close colleague, contributed with his approval, to present the recent research and developments and to address misapprehensions.[24] This publication also attempted to address the previous lack of evidence on the effects of paternal deprivation.

According to Rutter, the importance of Bowlby's initial writings on "maternal deprivation" lay in his emphasis that children's experiences of interpersonal relationships were crucial to their psychological development.[22]

Development of attachment theory[edit]

In his 1988 work A Secure Base, Bowlby explained that the data were not, at the time of the publication of Maternal Care and Mental Health, "accommodated by any theory then current and in the brief time of my employment by the World Health Organization there was no possibility of developing a new one". He then went on to describe the subsequent development of attachment theory.[25] Because he was dissatisfied with traditional theories, Bowlby sought new understanding from such fields as evolutionary biology, ethology, developmental psychology, cognitive science and control systems theory and drew upon them to formulate the innovative proposition that the mechanisms underlying an infants tie emerged as a result of evolutionary pressure.[26] "Bowlby realised that he had to develop a new theory of motivation and behaviour control, built on up-to-date science rather than the outdated psychic energy model espoused by Freud."[19] Bowlby expressed himself as having made good the "deficiencies of the data and the lack of theory to link alleged cause and effect" in Maternal Care and Mental Health in his later work Attachment and Loss published in 1969.[27]

Ethology and evolutionary concepts[edit]

From the 1950s, Bowlby was in contact with leading European ethologists, namely Niko Tinbergen, Konrad Lorenz, and Robert Hinde.[28] Bowlby was inspired by the study Lorenz conducted on goslings, showing that they imprint on the first animate object they see. Bowlby was encouraged by an evolutionary biologist, Julian Huxley, to look further into ethology to help further his research in psychoanalysis as he introduced Bowlby to the impactful work by Tinbergen on "The Study of Instinct".[29][28] Bowlby followed this guidance and became interested in ethology as he wanted to rewrite psychoanalysis in order to focus this research field around a concrete theory in which psychoanalysis was lacking.[29] He admired the methodological approach to ethology that psychoanalysis was not familiar with (Van der Horst, 2011). From reading widely in ethology, Bowlby was able to learn that ethologists supported the theoretical ideas through concrete empirical data.[29]

Using the viewpoints of this emerging science and reading extensively in the ethology literature, Bowlby developed new explanatory hypotheses for what is now known as human attachment behaviour. In particular, on the basis of ethological evidence he was able to reject the dominant Cupboard Love theory of attachment prevailing in psychoanalysis and learning theory of the 1940s and 1950s. He also introduced the concepts of environmentally stable or labile human behaviour allowing for the revolutionary combination of the idea of a species-specific genetic bias to become attached and the concept of individual differences in attachment security as environmentally labile strategies for adaptation to a specific childrearing niche. Alternatively, Bowlby's thinking about the nature and function of the caregiver-child relationship influenced ethological research, and inspired students of animal behaviour such as Tinbergen, Hinde, and Harry Harlow.

One of Harlow's students, Stephen Suomi, wrote about the contributions Bowlby's made to ethology,[30] including that Barlow brought attachment research into animal research specifically with rhesus monkeys and various other species of monkeys and apes.[31] Another contribution according to Suomi was that Bowlby influenced animal researchers to examine separation in animals. Furthermore, Suomi wrote that Bowlby brought to the field of ethology the acknowledgement of the consequences over time from different attachment styles that are prevalent in rhesus monkeys (specifically in the work of Harlow). According to Suomi, "Although Bowlby was a psychoanalyst by formal training, he was a true ethologist at heart".[31]

Van der Horst, Van der Veer, and Van IJzendoorn write:

Bowlby spurred Hinde to start his ground breaking work on attachment and separation in primates (monkeys and humans), and in general emphasized the importance of evolutionary thinking about human development that foreshadowed the new interdisciplinary approach of evolutionary psychology. Obviously, the encounter of ethology and attachment theory led to a genuine cross-fertilization.[28]:322–323

"Attachment and Loss" trilogy[edit]

Main articles: Attachment theory and Attachment in children

Before the publication of the trilogy in 1969, 1972 and 1980, the main tenets of attachment theory, building on concepts from ethology and developmental psychology, were presented to the British Psychoanalytical Society in London in three now classic papers: "The Nature of the Child's Tie to His Mother" (1958), "Separation Anxiety" (1959), and "Grief and Mourning in Infancy and Early Childhood" (1960). Bowlby rejected psychoanalytic explanations for attachment, and in return, psychoanalysts rejected his theory. At about the same time, Bowlby's former colleague Mary Ainsworth was completing extensive observational studies on the nature of infant attachments in Uganda with Bowlby's ethological theories in mind. Her results in this and other studies contributed greatly to the subsequent evidence base of attachment theory as presented in 1969 in Attachment, the first volume of the Attachment and Loss trilogy.[32] The second and third volumes, Separation: Anxiety and Anger and Loss: Sadness and Depression, followed in 1972 and 1980 respectively. Attachment was revised in 1982 to incorporate recent research.

According to attachment theory, attachment in infants is primarily a process of proximity seeking to an identified attachment figure in situations of perceived distress or alarm for the purpose of survival. Infants become attached to adults who are sensitive and responsive in social interactions with the infant, and who remain as consistent caregivers for some months during the period from about 6 months to two years of age. Parental responses lead to the development of patterns of attachment which in turn lead to "internal working models" which will guide the individual's feelings, thoughts, and expectations in later relationships.[33] More specifically, Bowlby explained in his three volume series on attachment (1973, 1980, & 1982) that all humans develop an internal working model of the self and an internal working model of others. The self-model and other-model are built off of early experiences with their primary caregiver and shape an individual's expectation on future interactions with others and interactions within interpersonal relationships. The self-model will determine how the individual sees themselves, which will impact their self-confidence, self-esteem, and dependency. The other-model will determine how an individual sees others, which will impact their avoidance or approach orientation, loneliness, isolation, and social interactions. In Bowlby's approach, the human infant is considered to have a need for a secure relationship with adult caregivers, without which normal social and emotional development will not occur.

As the toddler grows, it uses its attachment figure or figures as a "secure base" from which to explore. Mary Ainsworth used this feature in addition to "stranger wariness" and reunion behaviours, other features of attachment behaviour, to develop a research tool called the "strange situation" for developing and classifying different attachment styles.

The attachment process is not gender specific as infants will form attachments to any consistent caregiver who is sensitive and responsive in social interactions with the infant. The quality of the social engagement appears to be more influential than amount of time spent.[32]

Darwin biography[edit]

Bowlby's last work, published posthumously, is a biography of Charles Darwin, which discusses Darwin's "mysterious illness" and whether it was psychosomatic.[34] In this work, Bowlby explained that:

In order to obtain a clear understanding of the current relationships existing between members of any family it is usually illuminating to examine how the pattern of family relationships has evolved. That leads to a study of earlier generations, the calamities and other events that may have affected their lives and the patterns of family interaction that results. In the case of the family in which Darwin grew up, I believe such study to be amply rewarding. For that reason alone it would be necessary to start with his grandfathers' generation.[35]

This quote demonstrates Bowlby's entire career focusing on a child's early environmental experiences. Bowlby still believed this to be the most important aspect of understanding mental illnesses in his final published work, even when understanding the establishment figure, Charles Darwin.[clarification needed]

Bowlby's legacy[edit]

Main article: Attachment theory

Although not without its critics, attachment theory has been described as the dominant approach to understanding early social development and it has given rise to a great surge of empirical research into the formation of children's close relationships.[36] As it is presently formulated and used for research purposes, Bowlby's attachment theory stresses the following important tenets:[37]

  1. Children between 6 and 30 months are very likely to form emotional attachments to familiar caregivers, especially if the adults are sensitive and responsive to child communications.
  2. The emotional attachments of young children are shown behaviourally in their preferences for particular familiar people; their tendency to seek proximity to those people, especially in times of distress; and their ability to use the familiar adults as a secure base from which to explore the environment.
  3. The formation of emotional attachments contributes to the foundation of later emotional and personality development, and the type of behaviour toward familiar adults shown by toddlers has some continuity with the social behaviours they will show later in life.
  4. Events that interfere with attachment, such as abrupt separation of the toddler from familiar people or the significant inability of carers to be sensitive, responsive or consistent in their interactions, have short-term and possible long-term negative impacts on the child's emotional and cognitive life.

A mountain in Kyrgyzstan has been named after Bowlby.[38]

See also[edit]

Selected bibliography[edit]


  1. ^Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.; Yarbrough, Gary L.; Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey, Reagan; et al. (2002). "The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century". Review of General Psychology. 6 (2): 139–152. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139. 
  2. ^"Edward John Mostyn Bowlby". Munks Roll – Lives of the Fellows. Royal College of Physicians: Royal College of Physicians. IX: 49. 21 August 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2018. 
  3. ^"Dr Edward John Bowlby". The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. 28 February 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2018. 
  4. ^ abcdefghijklmnoVan Dijken, S. (1998). John Bowlby: His Early Life: A Biographical Journey into the Roots of Attachment Theory. London: Free Association Books
  5. ^Various contributors; Attachment; London; Karnac books; 2007
  6. ^Bowlby R, King P (2004). Fifty Years of Attachment Theory: Recollections of Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby. Karnac Books. p. 17. ISBN 9781855753853. 
  7. ^ abcdSchwartz J (1999). Cassandra's Daughter: A History of Psychoanalysis. Viking/Allen Lane. p. 225. ISBN 0-670-88623-8. 
  8. ^Bowlby, J. (1951). Maternal Care and Mental Health. New York: Schocken.P.89.
  9. ^Burke's Peerage (2003) volume 1, page 460. thepeerage.com
  10. ^ abcdefghijklmnKanter, J. (2007). John Bowlby, Interview with Dr. Milton Senn. Beyond the Couch: The Online Journal of the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, Issue 2. Retrieved from: http://www.beyondthecouch.org/1207/bowlby_int.htm
  11. ^Kanter, J. (2007). John Bowlby, Interview with Dr. Milton Senn. Beyond the Couch: The Online Journal of the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, Issue 2. Retrieved from: http://www.beyondthecouch.org/1207/bowlby_int.htm, page 02
  12. ^ abcdeBowlby, J. (1946). Forty-Four Juvenile Thieves: Their Character and Home-Life (2nd ed.). London: Bailliere, Tindall & Cox.
  13. ^Davies, Hillary A.; The Use of Psychoanalytic Concepts in Therapy with Families; London (2010); Karnac Books
  14. ^Mercer, J. (2006). 'Understanding attachment.' Westport, CT:Praeger.
  15. ^Ainsworth, M. D, Blehar, M, Waters, E, & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation. Hillsdale NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  16. ^Kanter, J. (2007). John Bowlby, Interview with Dr. Milton Senn. Beyond the Couch: The Online Journal of the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, Issue 2. Retrieved from: http://www.beyondthecouch.org/1207/bowlby_int.htm, page 13
  17. ^ abIssroff, J., Reeves, C., Hauptman, B. (2005). Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby: personal and professional perspectives. London: Karnac Books Ltd
  18. ^Issroff, J., Reeves, C., Hauptman, B. (2005). Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby: personal and professional perspectives. London: Karnac Books Ltd, page 116
  19. ^ abBretherton, I. "The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth" (1992)". Developmental Psychology. 28: 759–775. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.28.5.759. 
  20. ^Bowlby, J (1951) Maternal Care and Mental Health, World Health Organisation WHO
  21. ^Wootton, B. (1962). "A Social Scientist's Approach to Maternal Deprivation." In Deprivation of Maternal Care: A Reassessment of its Effects. Geneva: World Health Organization, Public Health Papers, No. 14. pp. 255–266
  22. ^ abRutter, M (1995). "Clinical Implications of Attachment Concepts: Retrospect and Prospect". Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 36 (4): 549–571. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1995.tb02314.x. PMID 7650083. 
  23. ^ abRutter (1981) Maternal Deprivation Reassessed, Second edition, Harmondsworth, Penguin.
  24. ^Ainsworth M et al.(1962 ) Deprivation of Maternal Care: A Reassessment of its Effects. Geneva: World Health Organization, Public Health Papers, No. 14.
  25. ^Bowlby J (1988) "A Secure Base: Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory". Routledge. London. ISBN 0-415-00640-6 (pbk)
  26. ^Cassidy J. (1999) "The Nature of a Childs Ties", in Handbook of Attachment. Eds. Cassidy J and Shaver PR. Guilford press.
  27. ^Bowlby J(1986) Citation Classic, Maternal Care and Mental Health
  28. ^ abcVan der Horst FCP; Van der Veer R; Van IJzendoorn MH (2007). "John Bowlby and ethology: An annotated interview with Robert Hinde". Attachment & Human Development. 9 (4): 321–335. doi:10.1080/14616730601149809. PMID 17852051. Retrieved 30 November 2007. 
  29. ^ abcVan der Horst, F. C. P. (2011). John Bowlby- From Psychoanalysis to Ethology. Unraveling the Roots of Attachment Theory. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
  30. ^Van der Horst FCP; LeRoy HA; Van der Veer R (2008). ""When strangers meet": John Bowlby and Harry Harlow on attachment behavior"(PDF). Integrative Psychological & Behavioral Science. 42 (4): 370–88. doi:10.1007/s12124-008-9079-2. PMID 18766423. Retrieved 11 September 2008. 
  31. ^ abSuomi, S. J. (1995). Influence of attachment theory on ethological studies of biobehavioral development in nonhuman primates. In S. Goldberg, R. Muir, and J. Kerr (eds), Attachment Theory: Social, Developmental, and Clinical Perspectives (pp. 185–201). Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.
  32. ^ abBowlby J [1969] (1999). Attachment, 2nd edition, Attachment and Loss (vol. 1), New York: Basic Books. LCCN 00266879; NLM 8412414. ISBN 0-465-00543-8 (pbk). OCLC 11442968
  33. ^Bretherton, I. and Munholland, K., A. Internal Working Models in Attachment Relationships: A Construct Revisited. Handbook of Attachment:Theory, Research and Clinical Applications 1999eds Cassidy, J. and Shaver, P., R. Guilford press ISBN 1-57230-087-6
  34. ^Bowlby, J, (1991). Charles Darwin: A New Life. New York: Norton.
  35. ^Bowlby, J. (1990). Charles Darwin: A New Life. New York: Norton & Company Inc.
  36. ^Schaffer R. Introducing Child Psychology. 2007. Blackwell.
  37. ^Mercer, J. (2006). Understanding Attachment. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  38. ^"Mt. John Bowlby & Peak Mary Ainsworth". www.psychology.sunysb.edu. Retrieved 2016-08-16. 

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This essay will describe and evaluate Bowlby’s theory of attachment and maternal deprivation hypothesis. The essay will describe the two theories, weighing up the strengths and the weaknesses. It will include supporting research by Shaffer and Emerson, Ainsworth and Harlow, along with criticisms by Rutter. John Bowlby (1907-1990) was a child psychiatrist. He was psychoanalytically and medically trained. In 1945, after returning from serving in the armed forces medical service, he secured a position as head of the Children’s Department at the Tavistock Clinic, London. Believing strongly that the quality of a parent-child relationship has a profound effect on developmental and mental health, he promptly renamed it the department for Children and Parents. While witnessing the distress shown by children separated from their parents or primary care-givers, especially if the periods were prolonged, unfamiliar or in the care of strangers, his ideas surrounding attachment theory evolved. To make sense of the extreme upset and distress displayed by the young children, Bowby pieced together a range of extraordinary thoughts and ideas from many different sciences. (Howe,D (2011) pg 7-8 )

Influenced by ethological theory, Lorenz (1935) and his study of imprinting showed attachment was innate in young ducklings; this had a huge influence on Bowlby. He believed that attachment behaviours were instinctive and would be activated by any conditions that threatened the child being near his mother or primary care giver and would cause the child insecurity and fear. He also postulated that strangers released an imprinted fear in a child and that survival mechanisms were in built via nature and that babies were born with social releasers. These innate behaviours displayed by the child help ensure proximity and contact with their mother figure, for example crying, smiling, crawling, which in turn stimulate care giving. Bowlby believed that an early bond was a framework for later adult relationships, friendships and parenthood. (Holmes 2011 Pg 62) Attachment is a term which refers to the quality of an individual’s attachment; these can be divided into secure and insecure. To feel secure and safe is to feel attached. To feel insecurely attached can manifest itself into a mixture of feelings towards the attachment figure; dependence and intense love, irritability and fear of rejection.

Bowlby suggested that a child forms an initial bond with only one person, this is called monotropy, and that this care giver acts as a secure base for the child, this attachment is a prototype for all future relationships and disruption of this can cause serious negative consequences in later life. The theory behind monotrophy later led onto Bowlbys formulation of his maternal deprivation hypothesis. Believing that the mother was the single most important figure in a Childs first two years, this being a critical period and any disruption could cause irreparable long term consequences (McLeod 2009). The development of the attachment theory was based around four distinguishing characteristics , these were proximity maintenance, whereby between birth and 6 weeks babies were born pre programmed, safe haven, six weeks to eight months secure base and separation distress. (Malim 1998)

Although Bowlby was indeed the integrating force behind attachment theory, Mary Ainsworth, with her grounding in developmental psychology, helped develop and extend Bowlby’s ideas. As founders of the attachment theory they maintained a productive relationship for many years. Mary Ainsworth (1982) carried out a study called “strange Situation” as a result she identified three types of attachment, secure, avoidant and resistant. Based on a similar study she carried out in Uganda where infants were used to being with their mothers and if the mothers left the room the babies would typically cry uncontrollably, in contrast American babies were used to their mothers entering and leaving the room more frequently. Ainsworth wanted to test the secure base and decided to set up a “strange Situation” where she could observe babies reacting to their mother’s absence in a stressful environment. In a room filled with engaging toys she observed the infants as they explored the new surroundings while their mother was in the room, she then introduced a stranger to increase the stress levels. The infant was then left in the room with the stranger and the behaviour at separation and reunion was observed. (Mooney.C (2010)

The results of the study showed that 70% of the infants demonstrated a secure attachment, whereby they trust the mother and were happy playing by the stranger but displayed caution. The child would cry when the mother left the room but was easily pacified on her return. 15% of the children were classed as avoidant, they did not appear to be affected by the stranger and treated the stranger the same as its mother. The remaining 155 were resistant, they did not use the mother as a secure base and became very difficult  comfort, clingy and would not except the stranger. (Malim 1998) Dollard and Miller (1950) suggested that attachment was due to drive reduction. This is described at hunger and cold having a driving force in a child seeking to satisfy its need to be warm and to eat. These discomforts are referred to as primary drives with food and warmth being the primary re-enforcers. The attachment only happens because the child wants the person supplying the food and warmth. This theory is referred to as cupboard love because of the emphasis it has on food and feeding.

However, Schaffer and Emerson (1964) found than fewer than half of the infants they studied had a primary attachment to the person who fed, clothed and bathed them. They carried out a longitudinal study which involved observing 60 babies, at monthly intervals, for the first 18months of their lives. While in their own homes, the children were observed interacting with their carers. If the baby showed separation anxiety after a carer left the room this was evidence for the development of an attachment. They discovered that up to 3 months of age a indiscriminate attachment was formed, this is where the baby is predisposed to attach to any human. After 4 months they form a preference to certain people by learning to distinguish primary and secondary caregivers but except care for anyone. After 7 months they form a special preference for a single attachment figure by looking to certain people for their security, protection and comfort. They show fear of strangers and sadness when separated from that one special person. After 9 months the baby has formed multiple attachments and becomes increasingly independent, forming many attachments. They concluded that the study indicated attachments were formed with the people who responded to the baby’s signals, not the person they spent the majority of their time with. McLeod,S.A. (2009

Harrow and Harlow (1962) also carried out a study that disproved the theory that attachment was based on food. They carried out an experiment on infant monkeys. They placed them in a cage with two wire mesh cylinders. One was bare with just a bottle of milk with a teat, to signify a lactating mother, and the other was wrapped in towelling to supply comfort. If the supply of food was all that was needed to form an attachment then you would think that the monkeys would have spent the majority of the time with the milk. In actual fact the opposite proved to be true. The monkeys used the  cylinder as their secure base for which to explore, a characteristic of attachment behaviour. This experiment proved that food alone was not sufficient in the formation of attachments. (Cardwell et al pg 117) Bowlby’s second theory was that of maternal deprivation. When an attachment is broken either temporarily, through hospitalisation, or permanently, through death, it is referred to as deprivation. Sadly, there have also been cases where children have been so badly treated, maybe kept totally isolated, that they have never formed an attachment at all. This is called privation.

However, Bowlby failed to differentiate between the two in his maternal deprivation hypothesis. Further studies have suggested that deprivation and privation are quite distinct and that the long term effects of privation are for more severe than the long term consequences of deprivation. Also, that children are far more resilient to early separation than Bowlby originally suggested and he later changed his views. Believing that the relationship between an infant and his mother was crucial to socialisation, especially in the first five years of the child’s life, and that any disruption could lead to emotional difficulties and anti-social behaviour he studies 44 adolescent juvenile delinquents in a child guidance clinic. The aim of the study was to see if the long-term effects of maternal deprivation caused delinquency in the children. He interviewed the 44 boys who had been sent to the clinic for stealing; he then selected another 44 children who had been sent to the clinic for emotional problems and not for committing any crimes. He also interviewed the parents of the children to try and discover if a separation had occurred during the critical period and for how long. He discovered that more than half had been separated from their mothers for longer than six months in the first five years. In the second group only two had been separated.

He also discovered that 32% of the thieves showed affectionless psychopathy, meaning they were unable to feel or show affection for others. This was not apparent at all in the second group. Bowlby concluded that the anti social behaviours and emotional problems displayed by the thieves were due to maternal deprivation. However, as the evidence that Bowlby based his findings from were in the form of clinical interviews and the parents were being asked questions retrospectively the evidence may not have been totally accurate. As he also designed and carried out the study himself it could also have been bias, especially as he was responsible for the diagnosis  affectionless psychopathy (.McLeod. S) Goldfarb (1947) carried out a study of a Romanian orphanage; the research involved two groups of children. Group one spend the first few months in the orphanage before they were then fostered. Group two were at the orphanage for three years prior to being fostered; therefore they had little opportunity of forming attachments in early life. Both groups were tested at the age of 12 and the children who had spend the longest at the orphanage were the least social, more likely to be aggressive and performed less well on the IQ tests.

This study highlighted that early deprivation can be overcome and they are not so reversible and permanent as Bowlby had assumed. Michael Rutter (1972) suggested that Bowlby over simplified the concept of maternal deprivation. He used the term to refer to a separation from an attached figure, loss of an attachment and failure to develop an attachment. Rutter argued that they each had a different effect, particularly in the case of privation and deprivation. Rutter believed that if a child did not develop an attachment that this was privation, whereas deprivation refers to the attachment being lost or damaged. In the case of Bowlbys 44 thieves, Rutter proposed that privation had occurred as they had suffered a series of different carers thus preventing the development of one particular attachment. He suggested that private children did not show distress when separated for a particular figure, showing a lack of attachment.

Following his own research of privation, Rutter proposed that it is likely to lead to clingy dependant behaviour, inability to follow rules, to form lasting relationships or to feel guilt. He also found evidence of anti social behaviour, affectionless psychopathy. (McLeod 2008) Genie (reported by Curtiss 1977) was found when she was 13 years old. She had been kept in total isolation all of her life, had suffered severe neglect and had been physically restrained. At the hands of her father she was tied to a child potty in a bare room and punished if she made a sound. When discovered she had the appearance of a child aged 6 to 7, was unsocialised, primitive and barely human. She was unable to walk or talk. Despite intervention and being taken off her parents and placed in foster care, Genie never achieved good social adjustment or language.

However, the Czech Twins study – Koluchova (1976) lost their mother shortly after they were born and were cared for by a social agency for a year being fostered by a maternal aunt for a further six months. Their development was normal. Their father remarried but his new wife was excessively cruel to the twins, making them live in the cellar for the next five and a half years and beating them. Once removed from their parents the twins attended a school for children with severe learning difficulties and were later adopted. They went from a state of profound disability to being with peers their own age and later went on to achieve emotional and intellectual normality.( McLeod 2008)

To conclude, in the case of Genie, the affects of her isolation proved not to be reversible, however, this could have been down to the fact that she was discovered at the age of 13. The earlier children are discovered, as in the case of the Czech twins, with good support and emotional care, it is possible. One could argue that the twins had each other and were able to form an early attachment. Rutter believed that the affects could be reversed with early adoptions. Whether the affects of privation are long lasting or not is uncertain from the studies and most of the research is around privation. Research on deprivation showed that if care and emotional support was offered, that a reasonable level of recovery could be expected.


Cardwell, Clark and Meldrum (2008) Psychology AS for AQAA. 4th Ed. London; Harper Collins Publishers Ltd Holmes (1993) John Bowlby and attachment theory, pg 62, East Sussex; Routedge) Howe,D (2011) Attachment across the life course, Hampshire; Palgrave Macmillian) http://psychology4a.com/attach%208.htm (accessed 24th April 2014) Malim,T and Birch, A (1998) Introductory Psychology, Hampshire; Macmillam Press McLeod,S.A. (2009) Attachment Theory http://www.simplypsychology.org/attachment.html (Accessed 24th April 2014) Mooney,C (2010) An Introduction to Bowlby,Ainsworth,Gerber,Brazelton,Kennel & Klaus. St.Paul; Red leaf Press

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