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fam-21 - ABriefOverviewofAdultAttachmentTheory andResearch...

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A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory  and Research R. Chris Fraley | University of Illinois Summary Research on adult attachment is guided by the assumption that the same motivational system that gives rise to the close emotional bond between parents and their children is responsible for the bond that develops between adults in emotionally intimate relationships. The objective of this essay is to provide people who are new to the field--or people who may simply be interested in learning more about research on adult attachment--a brief overview of the history of adult attachment research, the key theoretical ideas, and a sampling of some of the research findings. [This essay was last updated June 12, 2004.] Background: Bowlby's Theory of Attachment The theory of attachment was originally developed by John Bowlby (1907 - 1990), a British psychoanalyst who was attempting to understand the intense distress experienced by infants who had been separated from their parents. Bowlby observed that separated infants would go to extraordinary lengths (e.g., crying, clinging, frantically searching) to either prevent separation from their parents or to reestablish proximity to a missing parent. At the time, psychoanalytic writers held that these expressions were manifestations of immature defense mechanisms that were operating to repress emotional pain, but Bowlby noted that such expressions are common to a wide variety of mammalian species, and speculated that these behaviors may serve an evolutionary function. Drawing on ethological theory, Bowlby postulated that these attachment behaviors , such as crying and searching, were adaptive responses to separation from with a primary attachment figure --someone who provides support, protection, and care. Because human infants, like other mammalian infants, cannot feed or protect themselves, they are dependent upon the care and protection of "older and wiser" adults. Bowlby argued that, over the course of evolutionary history, infants who were able to maintain proximity to an attachment figure (i.e., by looking cute or by expressing in attachment behaviors) would be more likely to survive to a reproductive age. According to Bowlby, a motivational-control system, what he called the attachment behavioral system , was gradually "designed" by natural selection to regulate proximity to an attachment figure. The attachment behavior system is an important concept in attachment theory because it provides the conceptual linkage between ethological models of human development and modern theories on emotion regulation and personality. According to Bowlby, the attachment system essentially "asks" the following fundamental question: Is the attachment figure nearby, accessible, and attentive? If the child perceives the answer to this question to be "yes," he or she feels loved, secure, and confident, and, behaviorally, is likely to explore his or her environment, play with others, and be sociable. If, however, the child perceives the
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2011 for the course SFL 160 taught by Professor Brianwilloughby during the Winter '11 term at BYU.

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fam-21 - ABriefOverviewofAdultAttachmentTheory andResearch...

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