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Rachel Anyika

Attachment Styles


Attachment styles where initially developed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby. He observed the distress that infants suffered when being separated from parents and studied their attempts to prevent separation.Most importantly he looked at how they would attempt to re-establish proximity. He called these attempts attachment behaviors and considered that over the course of evolution infants who were able to maintain closeness to a attachment figure would be more likely to survive infancy. If a child feels that the attachment figure is nearby then they will feel secure, confident, able to explore the environment. If the child feels that the attachment figure is not close by then they will experience separation anxiety and exhibit attachment behaviors to try and reestablish closeness. This was further explored by his student Mary Ainsworth who developed a study called the strange situation to study the different ways that children displayed attachment behavior.

Attachment styles in adults

The strange situation study

12 month old infants and their parents where placed in a room and regularly separated then reunited with each other. Most infants (around 60%) would become upset when the parent left but on their return would actively seek out the parent and be easily comforted by them. We call this secure attachment. Another group of infants (around 20%) would be more uneasy when first entering the room and then become extremely distressed when the parent left. When the parent returns they become very difficult to comfort, they would use punishing behaviors towards the parent but also want the parent to comfort them. We call this anxious (preoccupied/ambivalent) attachment. The next group (around 20%) would not appear much distressed when their parent left. However, when the parent returned they would avoid contact and reject comfort. They would often seek out other objects to turn their attention to. We call this avoidant  (dismissing) attachment. In a later study Ainsworth discovered a fourth style. These infants would freeze, become confused and display characteristics of both anxious and avoidant styles when their parent re-entered the room. This is called fearful-avoidant (disorganised) attachment and is most often found in people that have suffered a higher degree of childhood trauma. As the infant continues to use the attachment pattern that best suits their situation, the pattern will become ingrained in their behavior. In adulthood they will transfer this attachment style to their intimate relationships.


Also known as preoccupied. Parents or caregivers where inconsistent and sometimes intrusive. Unpredictable and erratic, has a tendency to blame others. Pays very close attention to relationships and can be smothering. Has low self-esteem.

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