What Is Attachment?

An example of attachment between a parent and child
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Definition: According to psychologist Mary Ainsworth, attachment "may be defined as an affectional tie that one person or animal forms between himself and another specific one – a tie that binds them together in space and endures over time."

Attachment is not just a connection between two people; it is a bond that involves a desire for regular contact with that person and the experience of distress during separation from that person.

Why Do We Form Attachments?

Psychology John Bowlby is generally thought of as the father of attachment theory. He defined attachment as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings." Childhood, he suggested, played a critical role in the formation of attachments and early experiences could have an impact on the relationships people form later in life.

The earliest attachments we form are with parents and other caregivers, which is perhaps why Bowlby believed that attachment had a strong evolutionary component. These early attachments with caregivers serve to keep an infant safe and secure, thus ensuring the child's survival.

Bowlby suggested that there were four critical characteristics of attachment. First is proximity maintenance, or the desire to be near those with which we share an attachment. Attachments also create a safe haven, or the need to return to attachment figures for care and comfort.

Next, attachment figures also offer a secure base, allowing kids to explore the world while knowing they can still return to the safety of the attachment figure. Finally, kids experience separation distress when parted from an attachment figure. For example, kids tend to become upset when parents have to leave them in the care of others.

Why Is Attachment Important?

Attachment serves a number of important purposes. First, it helps keep infants and children close to their caregivers so that they can receive protection, which in turn helps boost their changes of survival. This important emotional bond also provides children with a secure base from which they can then safely explore their environment.

Researchers including Ainsworth, Bowlby, Main and Solomon also suggest that how a child is attached to his or her caregivers can have a major influence both during childhood and later in life. They have identified a number of different attachment styles to describe the affectional bond children have with their parents or caregivers.

The failure to form a secure attachment with a caregiver has been linked to a number of problems including conduct disorderd and oppositional-defiant disorderd. Researchers also suggest that the type of attachment displayed early in life can have a lasting effect on later adult relationships.

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

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