He argues that attachment is an innate process, naturally selected for its ability to keep animals in close proximity with their mothers, who will meet their basic survival needs, protect them from predators and teach them important life skills. He says that babies obtain inherited ‘social releasers’, such as cute faces with big eyes and small noses and behaviours such as clinginess, crying, smiling, cooing, which obtain care-giving from adults. Bowlby borrowed the idea of imprinting from ethologist, Konrad Lorenz, who showed that goslings will imprint onto the first moving thing they see and that this learning is irreversible.
Even though evolutionary accounts seem reasonable and appealing, they must be treated with caution as they are disreputably difficult to test as they are post-hoc explanations of events which have already occurred. Also, when extrapolating results from animals to humans one must be aware that, even in very similar species, very different outcomes can occur, e. g. Guiton found that imprinting could be reversed in chickens that had initially imprinted onto a rubber glove. It would also appear that humans who have had very poor early experiences of abuse and neglect can learn new behaviours when placed in loving and responsive environments, e.
g. both Genie and the Koluchova twins who suffered extreme privation made great advances in their social and emotional development, although not necessarily within the normal range for their age. However, in support of Bowlby’s claims, some social and behavioral problems may be long-lasting and this was shown in Hodges and Tizard’s (1989) study where even the children adopted into happy homes still had problems at school when they were teenagers. Bowlby suggested that humans have an innate tendency to make a special bond with one primary caregiver in childhood.
He called this ‘Monotropy’. He says we may have several important relationships, but one takes priority and is qualitatively different to the others. Information about this special relationship is represented in the mind as an internal working model, or blueprint which determines how we react to others in the future. Finally, Bowlby indicates that infants must from a secure attachment within a critical period between 0-3 years of life; otherwise they may well develop emotional and behavioural problems in later life.
He also predicts that trouble to this bond up to the age of 5 can have harmful effects on later development. Monotropy has been supported by cross-cultural research with African tribeswomen and their children. Tronick, et al (1992) found that even when children had been exposed to several carers who met their physical needs including breastfeeding, they still had preferences for their own mothers, with whom they slept at night, indicating that possibly the skin-to-skin contact and intimacy was central to formation of this attachment.
This also supports Klaus and Kennell’s ideas about bonding in the initial hours after birth. The study also refutes the claims of psychodynamic theorists who would suggest that anyone who breastfeeds the baby should become a primary attachment figure, due to the oral stimulation and pleasure provided which becomes associated with the carer. Conflicting evidence about Monotropy is presented by Shaffer and Emerson (1964) who showed that one third of children had a joint attachment, where two carers elicited equally intense reactions.
Many psychologists, including Thomas indicate that multiple attachments may in fact provide a more positive and varied experience for young children than a single attachment and his conflicts with Monotropy. Bowlby’s concept of the IWM has also been heavily criticized as it implies that all relationships in the future should be approached in a similar way. Although there is some evidence to suggest a correlation between early attachment style and later experiences of romantic love (Hazan and Shaver, 1987), there is also no evidence of a correlation between parent-child attachment style and child-peer relationships.
In conclusion, many of Bowlby’s claims are supported by animal research, both in natural settings and separations studies of captive monkeys, controlled observations of (Ainsworth and Bell, 1970), his own clinical case studies, and even cross-cultural studies, providing a wide range of experimental and non-experimental, quantitative and qualitative data, and although may of his arguments have been hotly debated, they have inspired a great deal of research which has revolutionised care for children in hospital, fostering and day care practice and have highlighted the importance of very early experiences to parents and governments alike.