Attachment styles

What is attachment?

Attachment is the emotional bond that children form with their caregivers. It is a process that sets off during pregnancy and develops over time in infancy and early childhood.

According to John Bowlby, infants attach due to the innate predisposition for connection to their caregivers. Children are dependent on the caregivers for support and comfort for their emotional and physical needs to be met. The quality of attachment formed is dependent on the sensitivity and the care provided.

Human beings are not the only species to exhibit attachment behavior. For example, goslings (baby geese) imprint on the first moving thing they see after birth.

In a study done by Harry and Marguerite Harlow, they observed baby monkeys separated from their mothers at birth and placed with two surrogates; one made out of wire and another covered in soft cloth. The baby monkeys seemed to prefer the soft cloth one as opposed to the wire one even though it had a feeding bottle attached to it.

The Harlow experiment


This only goes to show that food, shelter and clothing are not the only primary basic needs of a child, but love, care and support of their emotional and physical needs.


Types of attachment

There are two broad types of attachment – secure and insecure; which is further broken into three: anxious, avoidant and disorganized


Secure type: children who are securely attached use their mothers/caregivers as a secure base for exploring their environment. The child in this case will limit his/her exploration if the mother leaves the room, check for her whereabouts and may cry at that point but will relax upon her return then go back to their exploration.


Anxious type (ambivalent): the children are observed to cling tightly to their mothers with a reluctance to explore their environment despite having things such as toys that interest children in that particular age bracket. These children show a high level of distress upon the departure of the mother and her return does not seem to alleviate their situation. They also show some ambivalence/ resistance towards the mother often seen through slapping, pulling hair or twisting their body to get out of hold.


Avoidant type: children observed under this particular type seem to pay little attention to the mother/caregiver when she is present and are easily separated from her to explore their environment. There is little distress during separation and the child will hardly notice her return.


Disorganized type: children with this type of attachment do not display a consistent response to the separation and reunion with their mother/caregiver. The child seems confused and unable to look out for the mother as a source of support even when in distress.



Each of us displays a particular attachment style, though some people may have more than one.
In our next article, we will explore further how each type plays out in family, friendships, romantic as well as work settings and how we can develop healthy attachments.




Until then, stay safe.😊

Photo credits: Google

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