Published by MIT Press Hardcover ISBN: 9780262036900 eBook ISBN: 9780262342865
This chapter examines the history of some challenges to John Bowlby’s and Mary Ainsworth’s ethological attachment theory (EAT). Bowlby and Ainsworth argued that the mother-infant relationship is a natural dyad designed by evolution in which the instinctual responses of one party activate instinctual responses in the other, and that secure attachment is an adaptation. This chapter focuses on EAT’s two fundamental tenets: the universality of attachment patterns and the biological foundations of the attachment system. It shows that several scholars have challenged those tenets over the years and argues that attachment researchers have not addressed those challenges successfully.
Bowlby’s theory of attachment has been hugely influential, yet his proposal and its subsequent support derives heavily from research involving rhesus macaques, the most extensively studied nonhuman primate in attachment research. Does his theory apply to other primates? A substantial amount of data concerning primate (including human) child care now challenges Bowlby’s original proposal, particularly as it relates to the notion of the mother being the sole continuous care-and-contact provider: caring can be shared by various individuals, the father can serve as the primary attachment fi gure, and infants can form multiple attachments. This chapter focuses on the phylogenetic history of attachment among primates, identifi es features of attachment that are shared or which differ between humans and nonhuman primates, and considers the possible cognitive, social, and ecological factors associated with these similarities and/or differences in attachment among primates. Current evidence suggests that the human attachment system appears to be uniquely characterized by (a) social interactions based on combined visual, tactile, and auditory modalities, (b) the use of positive cognitive empathy, and (c) certain contextual elements typically contained in human social environments.
Bowlby recognized that studying other primates could help identify the needs of human infants; his evolutionary perspective has had a wide impact on understanding of human development. Much more is now known about evolutionary processes and variation, within and between species. This chapter reviews aspects of evolutionary theory and primatology relevant to Bowlby’s theory of attachment. Beginning with primate phylogeny, ecological and social forces that contribute to the varieties of primate sociality are considered and some reasons canvassed that explain why primatologists do not all agree on the choice of words to describe the relationships between animals, including use of the term “attachment.” To appreciate primate variation, interactions between infants, mothers, and others are characterized in a range of species. Variations and commonalities are identifi ed and used to explore how development in human infants can be understood in terms of social relationships and maturational state at birth and weaning compared to other primates. Infant experience has long-term effects in primates other than humans. Some of that evidence is summarized and special attention is given to interactions between particular chimpanzee mothers and infants in an unusual setting, where trusting relationships between mothers and human researchers reveal variations in mothering style that appear to result from early life events, recent experience, and social context.
Attachment theory is predicated on the assumption of dyadic relationships between a child and one or a few significant others. Despite its recognition of alloparenting in some cultural environments, current attachment research is heavily biased toward the mother as the major attachment fi gure in the life of the developing child. This chapter presents evidence that diverse childcare arrangements exist in cultures that differ from Western norms and shows how these are equally normative in their respective cultural contexts. In these settings, alloparenting is neither chaotic nor unstable; it is the norm, not the exception. In all environments, infant care is far more than just an isolated, biopsychological phenomenon: it is an activity deeply imbued with cultural meanings, values, and practices. To account for these multiple levels, the construct of attachment must shift its emphasis away from an individual child toward the network of relationships surrounding a child. Overwhelming evidence on diverse childcare arrangements in non-Western cultures calls the putatively universal model of attachment (derived from the Bowlby-Ainsworth paradigm and still widely applied today) into question. In support of future research, this chapter proposes an inclusive reconceptualization of attachment, informed by research from non-Western cultural settings.
This chapter presents an alternative view to classic attachment theory and research, arguing for systematic, ethnographically informed, approaches to the study of child development. It begins with the observation that the attachment relationships children develop are locally determined and insists that these features of attachment can only be captured through observing, talking with, and listening to local people as they go about living their lives, including caring for children. It reviews the profound ways in which child care around the world differs from the Western model, upon which attachment theory was founded and myriad recommendations have been derived. This worldwide account perspective of child care is profusely illustrated with ethnographic examples. Network theory is then discussed: from the full range of social networks to relational ones (i.e., smaller sets of individuals to whom children may become attached). The chapter considers attachment theorists’ resistance to the idea of multiple attachments, historically and still today. Discussion closes with a summary of the implications of our theoretical rethinking and the questions that remain.
Prolonged transnational separation between parents and children is a common occurrence for many families today. Typically motivated by the desire to create a better economic future for the entire family, parents who move abroad in search of work opportunities often face limited childcare options in their country of settlement. This causes some parents to send their infants and young children back to the parental homeland to be cared for by relatives for extended periods. In this chapter, serial attachments and separations among caregivers and children in the United States and China serve as a cultural exemplar to extend and situate the meaning of attachment. The goal is to understand how this practice might affirm and challenge various concepts within attachment theory. Attention is given to the concept of monotropy, a basic component of attachment theory that assumes children’s healthy development depends on a singular attachment created by sensitive interchanges between a parent and child. In turn, new directions are proposed for its measurement and related constructs.
As originally conceived and still practiced today, attachment theory is limited in its ability to recognize and understand cross-cultural variations in human attachment systems, and it is restrictive in its inclusion of cross-species comparisons. This chapter argues that attachment must be reconceived to account for and include cross-cultural and cross-species perspectives. To provide a foundation for rethinking attachment, two universal functions of attachment systems are proposed: they provide (a) socially organized resources for the infant’s protection and psychobiological regulation and (b) a privileged entry point for social learning. Ways of understanding the nature of the cultural and ecological contexts that organize attachment systems are suggested, so that they can be recognized as culturally specific, normative behavior. Culturally valid methods for describing children’s attachment systems are also discussed. In conclusion, a wide range of research strategies are proposed to facilitate the extension and contextual validity of measures of attachment across cultures and species.
Typical studies of the impact of the quality and presence of attachment relationships on child development have focused on the child’s safe-base behavior. In terms of neurobiology, this has primarily led to investigations of the child’s control over negative affect. In nonhuman primates, early investigations into the neurobiological consequences of attachment used models where attachment relationships were absent or severely curtailed. Institutionalization of infants, a common practice, mirrors these early primate studies since attachment relationships are limited or absent. These investigations are based on models of disruptions in attachment and used here to illustrate the impact of attachment relationships on two neural systems not typically considered: the neural substrates of reward learning and the neural substrates supporting complex cognitive function such as executive function. While attachment is central to the development of negative affect regulation, it is argued that the context in which the brain develops can also serve as an additional focus of early attachment relationships. This offers insight into the multiple functions served by attachment, and thus the role it plays in the development of other neural systems.
Neuroscience offers insight into processes that support the development of the social brain within the cultural contexts that permit attachment relationships to form. Both human and nonhuman animal studies are critical to inform theory development and hypothesis testing via descriptive and experimental studies. A scientifically valid evolutionary theory is necessary to account for the remarkable diversity of parenting systems across human and many nonhuman animals. This chapter examines the neural foundations of attachment and poses critical questions that relate to the initiation of this relationship: How does attachment interface with brain development? What is the interplay between attachment and brain development (including elements of bidirectionality)? Are there negative consequences associated with variation in attachment, and are they reversible? Rather than conceptualizing attachment in terms of a single type of relationship, or a rigid developmental channel, this chapter proposes that an expanded consideration of variation is necessary to understand the neural foundations of infant-caregiver relationships, and the role of those relationships in developing competence across the life span. This approach will permit identification of common neurobiological elements of attachment as well as the remarkable plasticity and diversity within and across individuals, cultures, and species.
This chapter reviews advances in evolutionary theory since Bowlby and proposes that our capacity for culture emerged with the evolution of human attachment by means of selection for increased mother-infant cooperation in the resolution of parent-offspring conflict. It outlines the evolutionary-developmental logic of attachment, parent-offspring conflict, and the view of culture as “ extended embodied minds.” It describes how the embodied mind and its attachments might have been extended beyond the mammalian mother-infant dyad to include expanding circles of cooperative individuals and groups. It argues that because attachment came before and gave rise to culture, no culture could long exist that did not accommodate the attachment needs of its infants. On this view, all the myriad cultural contexts of attachment foster secure-enough attachment—except when they cannot. Theory and evidence show that when mothers and others are unable to buffer their children against environmental risk and uncertainty, insecure attachment can be (or once was) evolutionarily rational. The major source of risk and uncertainty today are the causes and consequences of intergenerational poverty or inequality. It concludes that an attachment theory fully informed by twenty-first century evolutionary theory is fully consilient with normative emic perspectives on the nature of the child and appropriate child care, in both favorable and unfavorable environments.
Attachment theory is the focus of considerable contemporary developmental research. Formulated by Bowlby more than fifty years ago, it has been the subject of ongoing critique, particularly in terms of its relevance in non-Western settings. Attachment theorists have modified the theory in response to empirical findings, advances in allied fields, and further ideas. Yet, as evidenced by this Forum, work still remains. This chapter summarizes changes to some of the central areas of attachment theory as well as remaining points of contention: To whom do infants become attached? How should differences in attachment relationships be characterized? What influences lead to differences in attachment relationships? What are the outcomes of differences in attachment? Its intent is to sharpen the ways that culturally informed research can contribute to a better understanding of the attachment process and its consequences. Discussion concludes with broad reflections on attachment and culture.
Ideas and claims about children’s development (e.g., concerning attachment relationships) that have found broad acceptance in the academic community have impacted the development of policy in governmental and international organizations. These accepted ideas and claims, in turn, have been incorporated into practice and services provided to families in various forms (e.g., social work, child care). The reconceptualization of attachment systems proposed in this volume—in particular, the explicit evaluation of the influence of multiple attachment figures on children that is normative in many societies— should have profound effects on both policy and practice. This chapter addresses issues that need to be considered if society is to integrate current understanding of the cultural nature of attachment into policy and practice.
Attachment theory has its roots in an ethnocentric complex of ideas, longstanding in the United States, under the rubric of “ intensive mothering.” Among these various approaches and programs, attachment theory has had an inordinate influence on a wide range of professions concerned with children ( family therapy, education, the legal system, and public policy, the medical profession, etc.) inside and outside the United States. This chapter looks critically at how attachment theory has been applied in a variety of contexts and discusses its influence on parenting. It examines the distortion that often results when research findings are translated into actual applications or programs, ignoring any particularities of cultural context. It describes how attachment theory has been used as the basis for child-rearing manuals and has influenced programs and policies more directly, to form legal decisions that affect families, as well as to develop public policy and programs—all without requisite evidence to support such application and, more importantly, without regard to cultural context. Because child-rearing practices vary among cultures, the value systems that motivate these different practices must be recognized and accounted for when applications are developed and implemented. It concludes with a call for researchers to become proactive in rectifying misuses of attachment theory and holds that doing so is a matter of social responsibility.