Attachment Style Theory

Attachment Style Theory

It is a wonder how despite breathing the same oxygen and basking under the same sun, we all have different personalities.

Growing up, my Introvertism has made me wonder why some teens are in love with the ‘idea’ of being in Love, while others never want to be tied down with one person for their entire life.

My younger self came to the conclusion that people are like magnets. It’s just the matter of attraction force that differentiates them.

Some people bond with others intensely, while others draw a line to avoid getting too close to others.

Obviously, it wasn’t a satisfying theory for my grown self. So I decided to Google it.
Guess what I came across?

The Attachment Style Theory!
A theory that will change your future perspective for sure.

Importance of Attachment

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Attachment refers to the way people emotionally bond with others. All organisms that thrive today are designed for survival and so are humans.

Just like food and shelter, everyone needs to have strong emotional bonds with close ones. How else are you to feel alive?

This is evident from the evolutionary point of view as well. Observe the animals around and you’ll see that children who are nearer to their primary caregivers or mothers are more likely to survive.

This is because they get more attention, comfort, and protection compared to other children.

Naturally, this fact evolutionary motivates the child to bond closer to their primary caregiver too. When they feel that their behavior is disagreeing with their caregiver, they modify and present themselves as their caregivers would like them to be.

If the caregiver is toxic and unresponsive to the child’s needs, children will also develop ways to bond with other people unhealthily.

But if primary caregivers are always available and responsive to a child’s needs, the child develops high self-esteem. This allows them to develop healthy attachment styles with other people.

What is Attachment Style Theory?

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The theory came into existence when a psychologist, John Bowlby got curious and decided to understand the separation anxiety and distress that children experience when separated from their caregivers.

Some Psychologists felt that it was merely a learned behavior, while others felt that it had something to do with genetics. Yet, there were others who believed that this was a survival mechanism.

This strange situation inspired Bowlby to observe children and their caregivers more closely.

His first conclusion to the observation was that a child’s stress can be relieved through feeding but this Idea failed. As the Experiment progressed, Bowlby started realizing that a child’s basic NEED is comfort, love, and care from their caregivers.

When these basic needs of children were threatened, children developed separation anxiety and started crying.

Ainsworth Strange Situation

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Another psychologist named Mary Ainsworth came across John Bowlby’s observations and decided to expand his work.

She conducted research and observed children between the age of 12-18 months of age. The behavior of these children, when separated and reunited with their parents, was studied.

Based on this study, researchers concluded that there are 3 major attachment styles.

In the year 1986, researchers called Main and Solomon added a fourth attachment style to their list called disorganized – insecure attachment style.

Types of Attachment Style

Types of Attachment Style

As mentioned above, people have mainly 4 patterns of attaching to others. Namely,

Secure Attachment Style

Secure Attachment Style is when a person is emotionally secure with strong self-esteem. Children with secure attachment are fostered by parents who are always responsive to their children’s cries and distress.

Ambivalent-Insecure Attachment Style

Anxious Attachment Style -
Anxious Attachment Style –

Ambivalent Insecure Attachment Style is also known as Anxious attachment Style. This personality is developed due to the fear of abandonment or being unloved by close ones.

Because of this insecurity, they overthink their relationships with others and try to stabilize themselves by becoming clingy and super affectionate.

In other words, they are preoccupied with other people’s opinions and mindful of other people’s behavior.

Avoidant-Insecure Attachment Style

Avoidant Attachment Style
Avoidant Attachment Style –

Avoidant attachment refers to the type of attachment where a person is avoidant of people they recently met because of trust issues.

Avoidant people avoid overwhelming emotions caused when other person gets too close and their independence is threatened.

When their relationships get too dense and serious, they try to get out of the relationship by thinking that they were happier when single or how they will be better off with someone else.

Disorganized – Insecure Attachment Style

Disorganized Attachment Style Infographic
Disorganized Attachment Style –

Disorganized attachment style refers to the Pattern of bonding where people are confused and apprehensive in most situations. Someone who you would call ‘always on edge’.

People develop disorganized attachment during childhood when they experience mixed emotions from their caregiver.

These caregivers are sometimes super responsive to a child’s distress and other times they are intimidating.

These mixed emotions leave children confused about how their caregiver would respond to their needs.

The research on the importance of early emotional bonds was carried out further by Harry Harlow. His famous wire mother experiment (under Maternal Deprivation Studies) left everyone in awe.

Maternal Deprivation Studies

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A researcher named Harry Harlow was one of the many psychologists studying the importance of attachment at an early age.

In a series of experiments, he demonstrated how early age bonds influence an Individual’s behavior and thinking.

The subject of one of his Experiments (Wire Mother Experiment) was a Rhesus Monkey Baby. This baby monkey was placed in a cage where 2 other wire-made monkeys were placed.

One monkey held a bottle with food and the other monkey was simply covered with a layer of soft clothes.

While, the baby monkey would go to the wired-monkey for food, it would spend the rest of it’s entire day with the second mother as it provided more comfort and protection.

This experiment helps us conclude that attachment styles have more to do with comfort and protection rather than food and nutrition.

Stages of Attachment

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Researchers Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson studied 60 Infants every 4 weeks for 1 year. Later, they were studied at the age of 18 months. Based on their observations, they introduced 4 phases of attachment:

  • Pre-Attachment Stage
  • Indiscriminate Attachment
  • Discriminate Attachment
  • Multiple Attachment

✨Pre-Attachment Style

This period ranges from the birth to first 3 months of the baby’s life. During this phase, they do not show any particular attachment to one person.

The baby fusses or cries when they are in distress. The primary caregiver fulfills the need of the child. The positive response of the baby encourages the caregiver to remain close to the baby.

✨Indiscriminate Attachment

This phase ranges from 3 months to 7 months. The child starts differentiating between the primary and secondary caregiver.

Though they accept care from others, they trust their primary caregiver more. So, when the baby comes across the primary caregiver, they respond positively.

✨Discriminate Attachment

This phase ranges from 7 months to 11 months. The child is capable of differentiating between primary and secondary caregivers.

During this period, the baby’s behavior shows a strong preference for the primary caregiver. When separated from their parents, the child develops separation anxiety or display anxiety when among strangers.

✨Multiple Attachment

After the age of 9 months, babies start developing a strong emotional bond with people other than primary caregivers such as grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, etc.


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John Bowlby first Introduced the Attachment Style Theory in the year 1958 and it has changed every psychologist’s perspective on parenting.

According to Bowlby, children depend on their primary caregiver for comfort and protection which is essential for their survival.

Based on his observations, researchers concluded that whether it be a child or an adult, they attach to people around them in 4 patterns.

Later, researchers Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson conducted a study according to which there are 4 stages of attachment in an Individual’s life. This develops between 0 to 9 months of their birth. The stages are –

  • Pre-Attachment Stage (0 to 3 months)
  • Indiscriminate Attachment Stage (3 to 7 months)
  • Discriminate Attachment Stage (7 to 11 months)
  • Multiple Attachment Stage (after 9 months)

Understanding these studies and theories not only helps parents foster their children better, but also helps various parents understand and heal their problems, without passing them on to their children.

Made it this far? Discover more on Julie-Writes!

3 responses to “Attachment Style Theory”

  1. I have always ponder why some people are the way they are. This blog post cleared up lot many things. Thanks a lot!

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