Thursday, October 25, 2007

Essay 2- Attachment Theory

Love and Relationships: Attachment Theory Using examples from your personal relationships, or case studies, explain Attachment Theory. Your response can be written in the first person.

Word Count: 1,525 (excluding references, headings, abstract, appendices, and tables)

*What is the attachment theory?
*The secure, preoccupied, dismissing and fearful avoidant attachment styles
*How durable are attachment styles?

* A: Concept map on the four attachment styles
* B: Table containing further personal
* C: Concept map on the durability of attachment styles
* D: Celebrity examples
* E: Self-Assessment

*On-line engagement
*Written expression


The following essay will explore the attachment theory by discussing how the theory was developed, making note of the influential theorists involved in the attachment theory and also what the theory entails. The essay will go on to investigate the impacts of being each of the four proposed attachment styles, including the secure, preoccupied, dismissing and the fearful avoidant attachment styles. Personal examples will be supplied throughout the essay to illustrate some of the salient points raised. Finally the essay will contrast the two opposing perspectives on the durability of attachment styles, concluding that the research on the topic is contradictory, and thus no perspective is clearly more accurate than the other. In conclusion, further personal examples, including celebrity examples as well as two concept maps highlighting the essays key points can be found in the appendix.


Working for many years in childcare, I have witnessed many children’s reactions to their parents dropping them off at the crèche each morning. Why is it that some of the children can happily begin to play and graciously bid their loved ones adieu, while others become highly distressed, clinging to their parents legs, screaming until their faces turn blue as their horrified parents quickly escape? How come some children appear as though they couldn’t care less if they never saw their parents again while others become highly anxious at the mere sight of the nursery yet are not comforted by their parents nurturing? These questions can be answered by exploring the attachment theory, along with the four proposed attachment styles including, the secure, preoccupied, dismissing and fearful avoidant attachment styles. What are the impacts of being one style over another? How do adult attachment styles impact on interpersonal relationships and are how durable are attachment styles? Using the attachment theory, along with personal examples, these questions aim to be explored.

Attachment Theory

The attachment theory is a psychological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for discussion of affectionate relationships between human beings. The theory was firstly developed by John Bowlby in 1969, and has remained an influential framework which is still used to explain interpersonal relationships (Hazan, & Shaver, 1987). Bowlby was influenced by the work done by Harry Harlow, who discovered infant monkey’s separated from their mothers cling to fluffy covered objects rather then wire-coated food dispensers, indicating the infants need for nurture (Harlow & Suomi, 1970). Bowlby believed that an individuals attachment style was developed during childhood and was influenced by the child’s relationships with their primary care givers. He also held the belief that the attachment style would be durable into adulthood and would influence the way that individual related to others throughout their lifespan (Bowlby, 1969). This notion has recently been challenged and will be discussed further shortly. Mary Ainsworth was another influential attachment theorist who is known for her ‘strange situation’ experiments. Ainsworth would observe the attachment styles of children by placing the child in a new environment and record their reactions to their primary care givers exiting the room and then returning (Tracy & Ainsworth, 1981). The results of this experiment will be referred to shortly. The latest attachment theory states that individuals can be classified into four attachment styles based on the two dimensions of anxiety and avoidance. Anxiety refers to attitudes towards the self and avoidance refers to attitudes towards others (Cassidy, 2000). The four attachment styles are the secure, preoccupied, dismissing avoidant and fearful avoidant attachment styles and will now be explored in further detail.

Secure Attachment Style

The first attachment style is referred to as the secure attachment style. Securely attached individuals are low on anxiety and low on avoidance, thus, have positive attitudes towards themselves as well as towards others. To promote a secure attachment style in children, primary caregivers should be available, supportive, dependable, and be available as a safe haven (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). As found in Ainsworth’s strange situation study, a securely attached child is characterised by protesting their primary care givers departure, yet being able to then begin to play happily and later will welcome the return of their parents and will be reassured by their comfort (Tracy & Ainsworth, 1981). Being a securely attached adult too comes with many added benefits. These include having the ability to form close intimate relationships with ease, yet also being comfortable with autonomy. A secure adult will feel a sense of self worth and will have a general expectation that others will be accepting and responsive (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).

As a child my parents were always there or me when I needed them. I always felt safe and my parents were always consistent and reliable, so I knew what to expect from them in most situations. They also made one thing exceedingly clear, they loved me unconditionally. Having this loving and safe environment allowed me to become a securely attached child. When my parents dropped me at play group I would not become distressed on their departure however on their return I would be delighted.

Dismissing Attachment Style

The second attachment style is referred to as the dismissing attachment style. Individuals with a dismissing attachment style are low in anxiety but high in avoidance. Thus, they have positive attitudes towards themselves, but are high in avoidance of others. In children a dismissing attachment style is usually formed when a child’s bids for comfort were rejected and when primary care givers are uncomfortable with close bodily contact, tend to pick up their babies in an abrupt and controlling manner, and have restricted emotional expressiveness (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Ainsworth observed dismissing children were characterised by not becoming distressed by their parents departure, and too not being bothered by their return (Tracy & Ainsworth, 1981). Adults who are dismissing in their attachment style feel a sense of self worthiness, yet have a negative disposition towards other people. Such adults protect themselves against disappointment by avoiding close relationships and maintaining a sense of independence and invulnerability (Hazan & Shaver).

Preoccupied and Fearful Avoidant Attachment Styles

The third attachment style is known as the preoccupied style, these individuals experience high anxiety with low avoidance. Thus, preoccupied individuals feel a sense of unlovabililty and unworthiness combined with a positive evaluation of others. A preoccupied style is often formed when primary care givers are inconsistent in their parenting, sometimes loving and responsive, but only when they can manage, not in response to the infant's signals (Cassidy, 2000). Adults with this style strive for self acceptance by gaining the acceptance of valued others, they often cling to attachment figures and demand reassurance. The forth and final attachment style can be highly negative for the individual and is referred to as the fearful avoidant style. It is characterised by both high anxiety and high avoidance. Individuals with this attachment style feel unworthy and unlovable and also view others negatively by seeing them as rejecting and untrustworthy. As a result they avoid close relationships with others in an attempt to protect themselves from rejection. Individuals who have been neglected or abused may form this style (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). (See Appendix A & B for further information).

Durability of Attachment Styles

Research on the stability of attachment styles is controversial and has sparked a considerable amount of debate and discussion (Fraley, 2002). According to the attachment theory, after repeated experiences in childhood, a child develops a set of knowledge structures or an inner working model which represents the numerous interactions the child has had with their primary care givers. The child learns that if their primary care givers are responsive, they can count on them and others when needed. On the contrary, if the child’s care givers are cold, inconsistent or unresponsive, the child will learn they can not count on them or others for comfort. This working model is thought to persist through an individual's life time acting as a guide for future relationships (Fraley, 2002). Consistent with this view, is the notion that adults seem to be particularly attentive to experiences and information which is consistent with their internal expectation about the world, often referred to as the confirmation bias. To illustrate, a study conducted by Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan (1992) found that individuals with avoidant working models who held the view that others were unreliable viewed ambiguous social situations to be negative. A longitudinal study conducted by Roisman, Collins, Sroufe, & Egeland (2005) sought to explore whether infant attachment styles could predict adult attachment styles. The study found that a secure state of mind regarding one’s current romantic partnership as well as a higher quality romantic relationship was foreshadowed by a secure attachment relationship in infancy. A study conducted by Torgersen, Grova, & Sommerstand, (2007) tested the hypothesis that attachment in adults is influenced by genetic factors by comparing monozygotic and dizygotic twins attachment styles. The results found that although a shared environment significantly influenced attachment, so did genetic factors.

For me personally, my secure attachment style was durable into adulthood. I am currently in a relationship of over four years with my partner Adam (For further details see Appendix B).

However more recent theorists disagree with this notion. They propose that the durability of attachment styles is dependent on the stability of the individual's environment. Experiences of being in new relationships, and forming new attachments, can bring about changes in working models of the self and others. For instance, experiences with both current and former romantic partners may contribute to representations of attachment figures and may, in fact, override the influence of representations generalized from representations of the parent (Turan & Horowitz, 2007) Thus, if a partner truly has hostile intent, if a partner truly is likely to be hurtful or likely to abandon the relationship, even an individual who had been securely attached is likely to develop negative representations. Contrary to the previous studies mentioned, research done by Zhang and Labouvie-Vief (2004) found that over a six year period from young to middle adulthood, adult participants attachment styles were quite fluid and flexible, thus suggesting attachment styles may not be concrete. Perhaps more research is needed to settle this debate (See Appendix C for a summary).


In conclusion, the attachment theory has been found to be an influential theory used in explaining interpersonal relationships throughout an individual's life. The four proposed attachment styles, secure, preoccupied, dismissing and fearful avoidant have been explored, examining the impacts on the individual of being each style. Finally the durability of attachment styles throughout the lifespan has been questioned, with theories opposed and theories for the idea that attachment styles are stable. Due to the contradictory and solid research conducted by each opposing argument, no clear theory is more accurate.


Bartholomew, K., & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(2), 226-244.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss. London: The Hogarth Press.

Cassidy, J., & Maryland. U. (2000). Adult romantic attachments: A developmental perspective on individual differences. Dept of Psychology, Review of General Psychology, 4(2), Special issue: Adult attachment: 111-131.

Fraley, C. R. (2002). Attachment stability from infancy to adulthood: Meta-Analysis and dynamic modeling of development mechanisms. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6, 123-151.

Harlow, H. F., & Suomi, S. J. (1970). Nature of love: Simplified. American Psychologist, 25(2), 161-168.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes, 52, 511-524.

Roisman, G. I., Collins, W., Sroufe, A. L., & Egeland, A. B. (2005). Predictors of young adults' representations of and behavior in their current romantic relationship: Prospective tests of the prototype hypothesis. Attachment & Human Development, 7(2), 105-121.

Simpson, J. A., Rholes, W. S., & Nelligan, J. S. (1992). Support seeking and support giving within couples in an anxiety-provoking situation: The role of attachment styles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(3), 434-446.

Torgersen, A. M., Grova, B. K., & Sommerstand, R. (2007). A pilot study of attachment patterns in adult twins. Attachment & Human Develpoment, 9(2), 127-138.

Tracy, R. L., & Ainsworth, M. S. (1981). Maternal affectionate behavior and infant-mother attachment patterns. Child Development, 52(4), 1341-1343.

Turan, B., & Horowitz, L. M. (2007). Can I count on you to be there for me? Individual differences in a knowledge structure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(3), 447-465.

Zhang, F., & Labouvie-Vief, G. (2004). Stability and fluctuation in adult attachment style over a 6-year period. Attachment & Human Development, 6(4). Special issue: Attachment and aging Guest Editors: Carol Magai and Nathan S. Consedine. pp. 419-437.

Appendix A

Concept map: The four proposed attachment styles.

Appendix B

Table: Personal examples of each attachment style.

Appendix C

Concept map: The durability of attachment styles.

Appendix D

See: for celebrities attachment styles examples.

Appendix E

Self Assessment

Theory: Obviously the main theory I discussed in my essay was the attachment theory. I too however tried to include as many other relevant theorists and theories involved in the development and maintenance of the attachment theory as I could.

Research: I am happy with my research component of this essay. I read so many studies and included only the ones I thought best illustrated each point. This actually meant using some older research which I ordinarily avoid doing. But I think for the purpose of this essay, going back to the original studies helped me gain a better understanding of the topic.

Written Expression: To make my written expression at the highest possible standard I added two concept maps on the main points of my essay and also added a table containing personal examples on attachment styles. I too formatted it in an easy to read layout and added pictures to engage the reader. I also edited my essay until I reached a readability level 12. I used APS formatting where I could.

On-line Engagement: I am really happy with my on line engagement this term. I have posted 10 original posts and 10 comments on other peoples blog postings (hyper links provided on the right hand side of my blog page). I made sure to make regular posts from week 8 onwards, and tried to make each post as thoughtful and helpful as possible. I also received many fantastic comments from my fellow classmates (not to mention a thoughtful comment from a man in the UK who is highly interested in the attachment theory!). Once again, although it took a lot of effort, I thoroughly enjoyed the on line engagement.


Crystal said...

I like your idea to use yourself as an example to discuss different attachment theory. it was really nice reading your blog!
Good luck! :)

James Neill said...

1.Overall, this is a well-expressed, well-researched, creative, and well-constructed essay which answers the question in a lively and interesting way. In addition, your online engagement was fantastic. Congratulations.
2.No descriptive essay title?
3.The upfront information (e.g., Table of Contents) was mostly very useful/helpful, although perhaps a bit long and distracting from getting into the essay (e.g., the Appendix info could go at the end). But it does demonstrate noticable efforts towards readability. Well done.
4.Abstract: Good on you for providing this; the style however is more of an introduction. An abstract should be a past tense summary of the key points.
5.Note ~1600 words for body of essay.
6.Lively, well-written, interesting introduction which suits the question and essay style.
Historical contributors to AT well covered in short space, although the exact source of the reviewed types is not entirely clear, e.g., “The latest attachment theory...” (reference?) and “The first attachment style is referred to as the secure attachment style.” (reference?)
As suggested below, I think at least Appendix A could have been presented in the main body of the essay and used perhaps to help better explain the underlying dimensions of anxiety and avoidance; and/or perhaps a 2 x 2 model showing the four types organised on the two underlying dimensions would have been important and useful.
Be wary of implying artificial order, e.g., “The first attachment style...”
A range of research is used, including important historical references and contemporary research on durability of Ats. The section on durability was excellent and showed an indepth and mature understanding of research on AT. It was critical and balanced.
9.The conclusion offers a summary, but perhaps lacks incisiveness; the style could be better suited to an abstract.
“no clear theory is more accurate” is a bit vague.
10.Writing style / Readability:
Several paragraphs are too long (e.g, Attachment Theory para is 274 words). Sections should consist of at least two paragraphs. Usually presented one main idea or key point per paragraph.
Appendix A: could have been Figure 1 and presented in the main body because its an important conceptualisation which is central to the essay. Well done on using visualisation methods to help convey ideas. The colours in this diagram were a bit heavy; it could be more effectively presented in b&w. No referencing of the source(s) on which this diagram is based.
Appendix B: Succint, useful adjunct to Appendix A, efficiently and clearly offering personal examples which demonstrate understanding of these four attachment styles.
Appendix C: Demonstrates critical thinking about strengths & weaknesses at AT.
Appendix D: Interesting; demonstrates clear engagement.
Photographs should be captioned as Figures, with sources acknowledged.
11.APA Style:
No bold in reference list.
Remove issue numbers.
Italicise volume numbers.
Only use & inside brackets; otherwise use “and”
12.Grammar: Generally very good, with some minor typos and grammatical errors:
Note some problems with ownership apostrophes, e.g.,:
infant monkey’s -> infant monkeys
an individuals attachment -> an individual's attachment
13.Online engagement has been superb throughout the 2nd half of semester. Congratulations on your significant contributions to the 'learning community' and for taking responsibility for fostering your own learning!

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