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Attachment and bonding: From ethological to


representational and sociological perspectives

Chapter January 1992

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Inge Bretherton
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Reprinted from: Handbook of social development (1992). V.B. Van Hasselt and M. Herson (Eds.), (pp. 133-
155). New York: Plenum.

Attachment and Bonding:


From Ethological to Representational
and Societal Perspectives
Inge Bretherton
University of Wisconsin

D uring the 1960s and 70s, ethological concepts


came to hold much fascination for theoreti-
cians of human development. Animal studies on
scribe how this work was both supported and ex-
tended through empirical studies conducted by
Ainsworth and her colleagues and students (see
dominance hierarchies and on social bonds were Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). To dis-
especially influential. Field observations of devel- cuss parents' attachment to their infants--a topic not
oping parent-offspring bonds in birds (e.g. Lorenz, well elaborated in attachment theory--I will draw on
1935, translated 1957; Lorenz, 1957; Tinbergen, the work of Klaus and Kennell (1976), and that of
1951) and mammals, especially nonhuman primates other researchers inspired by them. I will then show
(e.g. DeVore, 1965) provided novel ways of think- how current developments in the study of attach-
ing about and of studying the human infant's attach- ment from a representational perspective allow us to
ment to parents as well as human parents' attach- gain new understanding of the intergenerational
ment to their infants. Previously unfamiliar terms transmission of attachment patterns and of attach-
such as imprinting, critical period, supernormal ment phenomena across the life course. This work
stimulus, and fixed action pattern entered develop- highlights attachment theory's link to other psycho-
mental psychologists' vocabulary. analytic theories of interpersonal relatedness (e.g.
Erikson, 1950; Sullivan, 1953; Winnicott, 1965) and
Ethological concepts were attractive because is making significant contributions to the field of
they provided a more powerful explanation of phe- developmental psychopathology. Finally, I will dis-
nomena such as child-mother attachment, separa- cuss studies that place the study of attachment
tion anxiety, and responses to bereavement than the within a more comprehensive social framework by
then current psychoanalytic theories (Bowlby 1958, demonstrating that the development and mainte-
1959, 1960). Yet psychoanalytic concepts, now nance of optimal attachment relations is also influ-
dressed in the guise of ethology, remained at the enced by social networks, and cultural values.
heart of much of the new thinking. Although this is
obvious from a close reading of Bowlby's work, it A Brief Overview of Attachment Theory
is only recently--with the rise of new theories of At a time when research on the topic was still
mental representation--that attachment researchers sparse, Bowlby (1958) postulated that the human
have rediscovered and reworked these links to psy- infant enters the world preadapted to interact with
choanalytic theory (see Bretherton, 1987, 1990). and respond to a human caregiver. We now have
In this chapter, I will first discuss Bowlby's overwhelming evidence that his claim was justified
(1969) evolutionary-ethological theory of infant- (see Stern, 1985, for an extensive review of this lit-
mother attachment. Based on a translation of psy- erature). In addition, Bowlby proposed that attach-
choanalytic into ethological concepts, this theory ment as an enduring affectional bond to a specific
also incorporates insights from control systems and figure or figures emerges fully only during the sec-
information processing theories. Next, I will de- ond half of the first year of life when infants' attach-
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

ment behaviors become organized into a control to choose amongst alternative courses of action, and
system which regulates proximity to a preferred to react to anticipated situations before they arise.
figure or figures. This shift roughly coincides with Bowlby was attracted to this idea of representation
the onset of locomotor abilities that allow infants to as simulation because it was compatible with the
follow their parents about, to search for whem they psychoanalytic concept of representation as an an
are gone, and to approach them and seek close bod- inner world.
ily contact when they return. It also roughly coin-
Bowlby, elaborating on the idea of internal work-
cides with the infant's ability to understand that dis-
ing model, postulated that within an individual's in-
appearing objects continue to exist (Piaget, 1954).
ternal working model of the world, working models
Empirical evidence for a "focalization" of the infant
of self and caregiver in the attachment relationship
on the primary caregiver came from an important
are of particular salience. Their function is to help
study of foster children by Yarrow (1967) who
forecast and interpret the partner's behavior, as well
found that the transition from foster mother to
as to plan one's own behavior in response to the
adoptive mother during the first six months of life
partner. Initially, internal working models of attach-
caused only relatively short-lived reactions, but that
ment relations encode a person's current patterns of
infants tended to have much more severe reactions
interaction with an attachment figure or figures.
if this transition was delayed into the second half of
However, once formed, old patterns are imposed
the first year.
like templates onto new interactions (Piaget, 1954),
According to Bowlby (1958, 1969) the evolu- and are not readily relinquished, even when a part-
tionary function of infant attachment behaviors ner's behavior begins to change. Thus, an infant who
such as following, clinging or crying is proximity to has frequently been rebuffed by a parent and has
a specific caregiver. Given that human and other consequently become more reluctant to seek or ac-
primate infants are highly curious and exploratory cept comfort, is not likely to respond in kind when a
creatures, chances for survival and leaving progeny previously unresponsive parent suddenly becomes
are likely to be much increased if the infant is moti- responsive (for example, at the end of a prolonged
vated to seek refuge with or call out to a protective illness that was experienced by the infant as rejec-
figure when frightened. Infants' proclivity not to tion). This, in turn, is likely to make it more difficult
stray too far from their attachment figure even for a caregiver to remain responsive. The converse
when at ease has a similar function. Because avail- is also likely to be true. If the poarent has been con-
ability of the caregiver is important for protection, sistently responsive, the infant is not likely to
the infant experiences a feeling of security in the abruptly change his or her expectations because of
presence of that figure and separation anxiety when fairly infrequent parental lapses. Over the long term,
the attachment figure is physically or psychologi- however, internal working models must be accom-
cally absent. Indeed, the impetus for attachment modated to developmental and environmental
theory came from a need to explain the effects of change in order to adequately fulfill their function.
maternal separation and deprivation (Bowlby,
Because of their origin in transactional patterns,
1951).
internal working models of self and caregiver are
Almost all human infants become attached to complementary to each other so that, taken together,
their primary caregivers, even in families where they represent the whole relationship (see also
parents are abusive or neglectful. Differences in the Sroufe & Fleeson, 1986). If the caregiver has ac-
quality of attachment relations can easily be ob- knowledged the infant's needs for comfort and pro-
served, however, and are held to derive from dyad- tection, and respects the infant's desire to explore
specific transactional patterns which--by the end of the environment, the child is likely to develop an
the first year--become internalized as "internal internal working model of self as valued and self-
working models" of self and other in relationship. reliant. However, Bowlby envisions a very different
Bowlby (1969, 1973) defines internal working process as far as internal working models of inhar-
models of self and attachment figure(s) as dynamic monious relationships are concerned. If the parent
representations with both cognitive and affective has frequently rebuffed the infant's bids for comfort
components. He derived the term from the writings or exploration, Bowlby speculates, the child is likely
of Craik (l943), a psychologist involved in the de- to form two competing working models that are at
sign of intelligent rocket guidance systems. Craik odds with each other (Bowlby, 1973). One of these-
suggested that organisms that carried a small-scale -accessible to awareness and discussion--represents
model of reality in their head were thereby enabled the parent as good and the parent's rejecting behav-

2
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

ior as due to the "badness" of the child. The other termed mothers "sensitively responsive" or simply
model--defensively excluded from awareness-- "sensitive" if they noticed their infants' signals, in-
represents the rejecting or disappointing side of the terpreted them accurately (by taking the infants' per-
parent. Once such dual models become established, spective), and then responded reasonably promptly
later input cannot be flexibly and appropriately and appropriately. Neither Bowlby nor Ainsworth
processed, resulting in working models that remain precisely specified the criteria by which one was to
ill-adapted to reality, or as Crittenden (1990) has judge the accuracy of parental interpretation and the
aptly put it, working models that are not working appropriateness of parental responding, but they can
well. be fairly readily derived from some of the basic
assumptions underlying attachment theory (Bowlby,
Bowlby's proposal regarding the development of
l969). According to that theory infants are
two segregated working models of self and parent
preadapted to a caregiver who understands their at-
in unsatisfying relationships builds on Tulving's
tachment behaviors as bids for comfort, soothing
(1972) distinction between episodic and semantic
and protection, but who also permits and supports
memory. Episodic memory stores autobiographical
autonomous action and exploration. The optimal
memories of specific events in a person's life his-
caregiver is one who accepts attachment behavior
tory, whereas semantic memory stores generic
and respects strivings for autonomy. Where a care-
propositions (general knowledge as opposed to spe-
giver fairly consistently interprets security-seeking
cific memories). Tulving believes that the two
as overly demanding, or unimportant, or too often
memories are based on different storage mecha-
restricts the baby's desire for independent explora-
nisms. Be that as it may, Bowlby (l980) emphasizes
tion, the infant's attachment behavior will not be
that autobiographical memory derives from actual
effectively assuaged, nor will eagerness to explore
experience, whereas generic knowledge (semantic
be appropriately fostered. This has important seque-
memory) may be based on distorted information
lae for the development of communication patterns
supplied by others. Severe psychic conflict is likely
in attachment relationships. Not only is the insensi-
to arise when the two sources of stored information
tively mothered infant prevented from reaching his
(generalizations built on actual experience and on
or her immediate goal, but he or she also repeatedly
communications from others) are highly contradic-
receives the implicit message "I do not understand
tory. As a result, defensive processes may be
you", "Your communications are not meaningful or
brought to bear on episodically stored memories
important" (see also Stern, l977, for extensive dis-
derived from actual experience as a means of elimi-
cussions along similar lines). Note, however, that
nating the conflict.
insensitivity is not necessarily indexed by unpleas-
As Bowlby formulated and elaborated these ant, mean or nasty maternal behavior. Rather, insen-
ideas (1969, 1973, 1980), Ainsworth and her stu- sitivity implies that the caregiver is not reading and/
dents began to develop methods of observation and or supportively responding to the infant's states or
coding through which the theory could be put to the goals.
empirical test. In so doing, Ainsworth not only vali-
In Ainsworth's study, mothers who responded
dated but also substantially extended attachment
sensitively during the infant's early months during
theory. Her lengthy longitudinal home observations
feeding (Ainsworth & Bell, l969), face-to-face play
of mother-infant pairs, conducted in Uganda
(Blehar, Lieberman, & Ainsworth, 1977), physical
(Ainsworth, 1967) and later in Baltimore
contact ( Ainsworth, Bell, Blehar, & Main, 1971),
(Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, l978) yielded
and distress episodes (Bell & Ainsworth, 1972), had
detailed narrative records of mother-infant interac-
infants who--during the last quarter of the first year-
tion in a variety of contexts. In line with predictions
-cried less but had a larger communicative reper-
made by Bowlby, Ainsworth and her colleagues
toire (Bell & Ainsworth, 1972; Ainsworth, Bell, &
found that a mother's sensitive, appropriate respon-
Stayton, l974). These infants were also more obedi-
siveness to infant signals during feeding, physical
ent (Stayton, Hogan, & Ainsworth, 1973), and de-
contact, infant distress and face-to-face play in the
manded close bodily contact less often though they
course of the first three months was related to a
enjoyed it more (Ainsworth, Bell, Blehar, & Main,
more harmonious (secure) attachment relationship
l971). Moreover, sensitively mothered one-year-
by the end of the first year of life (for a review see
olds behaved differently from insensitively moth-
Ainsworth, et al., 1978).
ered infants in a laboratory situation known as the
At this point, the definition of maternal sensitiv- Strange Situation (Ainsworth, Bell, & Stayton,
ity needs clarification. Ainsworth et al. (l974) 1974), Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). It

3
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

is because of correlations between the quality of tions during the first year of life. As we will see
interactions at home and in the Strange Situation, later, however, parent of infants classified into
that this procedure has now become a short-cut group D are known to differ in a number of ways
method for assessing the quality of infant-mother (for further details see Main and Hesse, 1990). In
attachment, an unfortunately oft-forgotten fact. particular, they often assume a controlling stance in
reunions with the parent at 6 years of age (Main,
The Strange Situation consists of a standard se-
Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985).
quence of eight 3-minute episodes in a laboratory
playroom where mother and baby are joined by an Although both caregiver and baby contribute to
unfamiliar woman. Of special importance are two reciprocal transactions from the beginning, findings
sequences during which the mother leaves the room from the Baltimore study indicate that, in the early
and then returns. Infants whose mothers had re- phases of development, the caregivers' sensitivity to
sponded sensitively to their signals during feeding, infant signals appears to be more influential in set-
crying, holding and face-to-face episodes at home ting the tone of the relationship than are infant char-
during the first 3 months of life, welcomed their acteristics such as temperament (Sroufe, 1985).
mother's return after a brief separation in the However, as memory and information processing
Strange Situation. They approached her readily, capacities improve, the infant gradually assumes a
sought interaction or close contact, were relatively more active role in upholding emerging transac-
quickly soothed and then returned to play. These tional patterns. Indeed, our understanding of such
infants were labeled secure (group B). patterns in attachment relationships has taken a sig-
nificant step forward through several detailed mi-
Insensitively mothered infants either avoided
cro-analytic studies of parent-child interactions un-
the returning mother by snubbing her, looking,
dertaken in Germany by Escher-Graueb &
turning, walking away, or refusing interaction bids
Grossmann (1983).
(insecure-avoidant or group A). Others responded
ambivalently when the mother came back, seeking In a laboratory playroom, mothers whose infants
close bodily and contact, but also showing angry, had been classified as avoidant with them in the
resistant behavior. Infants classified into this inse- Strange Situation, joined in when the infants were
cure-ambivalent group (C) wanted to be held, but cheerfully exploring the toys, but withdrew when
were either to distressed to approach or showed tan- the infants showed evidence of negative feelings.
trumy as well as contact-seeking behavior during Mothers of secure infants, on the other hand,
the reunions. At home, the mothers of the avoidant watched quietly from the sidelines as long as the
babies provided less affectionate holding during the infants did not need them, but joined in supportively
first three months and frequently rejected bids for when their infants showed signs of stress or distress.
close bodily contact during the last quarter of the In the Strange Situation itself, Grossmann,
first year. These mothers also talked about their dis- Grossmann, and Schwan (l986) discovered that
like of bodily contact in conversations with the ob- avoidant infants tended not to communicate with
server. Mothers of ambivalent babies, by contrast, their parents nor to seek bodily contact when dis-
were inconsistently sensitive at home. Although tressed after separation. Secure infants, on the other
they frequently ignored their babies' signals, they hand, never stayed away from a parent when they
did not reject close bodily contact felt unhappy. In other words, once particular pat-
terns of communication are established in a dyad
More recently, Main and Hesse (1990) have
they tend to be maintained by both partners.
identified a fourth group of infants termed insecure-
disorganized (group D) whose behavior does not Corroborating evidence for this line of argument
readily fit one of the three categories defined by comes from Matas, Arend and Sroufe (l978) who
Ainsworth et al. (l978). The insecure-disorganized discovered different communication patterns in dy-
classification is given to infants who display a com- ads earlier classified as secure or insecure at 12 and
bination of strongly avoidant and resistant reunion 18 months. When faced with a difficult problem-
behavior, as well as to infants who show a variety solving task secure 24-month-old toddlers initially
behaviors that did not fit the context (sudden still- worked on their own, but asked for mother's assis-
ing in the midst of a greeting, very fleeting fear re- tance when they got stuck. In turn, their mothers
sponses as the mother returns). Much less is known intervened only when asked, and did so effectively
about this group, and unlike the ABC classifica- and supportively. Insecure toddlers, by contrast,
tions, the disorganized-disoriented behavior pattern tended to whine and give up easily, whilst their
still remains to be validated against home observa- mothers tended not to offer help. In clinical samples

4
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

(Radke-Yarrow, Cummings, Kuczynsky, & Chap- seems to be a potent cue, whereas sight is not.
man, l985; Lieberman & Pawl, 1990) such mutually Moreover, maternal sensitive behavior quickly
maladaptive communication patterns are even more wanes if female goats are not given immediate ac-
apparent. cess to their young.
These findings not only support Bowlby's theo- These and related findings led Klaus, Kennell
reticcal claims, but are consonant with microana- and their colleagues to ask whether analogous proc-
lytic, process oriented studies of mother-infant syn- esses might be observed in humans, especially since
chrony vs. asynchrony in face-to-face play (e.g. clinical reports had suggested that the first few
Brazelton, Kozlowski, & Main, 1974; Stern, Beebe, hours after birth may be especially significant for a
Jaffe, & Bennett, 1977; Tronick, Ricks, & Cohn, mother's attachment to her infant. They planned a
1982) and maternal attunement and misattunement carefully controlled study in which mothers who
to the infant during the latter part of the first year had given birth to their first babies were given two
(Stern, 1985). Thus, we now possess ample infor- different types of experiences: (1) early, extended
mation about persistent disturbances which can oc- contact
cur in mother-infant communication processes.
and (2) routine care. Routine care in the early 70s
In studies of infant-mother attachment and syn- when this investigation was conducted involved a
chrony, the emphasis is on the importance for the glimpse of the baby after birth, a brief contact after
developing relationship of the mother's sensitivity 6-8 hours (for identification) and 20-30 minute feed-
to her infant's signals. Researchers and theorists ing visits every four hours.
took it as a given that human mothers were or
To determine whether early and extended con-
should be motivated to be sensitively responsive to
tact affected later mother-infant interaction the fol-
their infants. They did not ask how this motivation
lowing outcome variables were used: an interview
arose and whether circumstances surrounding the
with the mother, observations of the mother during
infant's birth might facilitate or interfere with this
the first postnatal check-up by the pediatrician and
commitment. Indeed, they did not study maternal or
filmed observations of feeding interactions. During
paternal experiences of bonding with the infant.
the interview mothers with extended contact were
Parent-Infant Bonding more reluctant to leave their babies, and responded
more promptly when they cried. These claims were
In 1972, Klaus, Jerauld, Kreger, McAlpine,
corroborated by findings from the check-up visit
Steffa, and Kennell published a provocative paper
with the pediatrician. Extended contact mothers
on maternal-infant bonding that, like Bowlby's and
stood and watched the physical examination and
Ainsworth's work, was strongly influenced by
soothed their babies more frequently if they cried. In
ethology. Studies of mammals had shown that new-
the filmed feeding observations, extended contact
born infants' appearance and behavior are powerful
mothers were more affectionate and more often held
elicitors of maternal nurturance and protection. For
their babies in a face-to-face position. One year
example, Klopfer (1971) had found that female
later, extended contact mothers again observed more
goats whose young are removed immediately after
closely and even helped as the pedicatrician exam-
birth will chase them away an hour later. However,
ined their babies and soothed them more when they
a female who has been allowed only 5 minutes of
cried. At five years of age, the children of extended
postnatal contact with her young, she will reaccept
contact mothers scored higher on IQ tests and lan-
it readily as much as 3 hours after removal.
guage tests than the children of control mothers
From this and similar animal studies, Klaus and (though there had been substantial sample attrition
Kennell (1976) concluded that in many mammals at that time).
there is a sensitive period after birth during which
In a subsequent study of extended contact in
females become bonded to their young, and that,
Sweden, de Chateau (1976) demonstrated that, one
except under special conditions, bonding or adop-
year later, extended contact mothers were more af-
tion will not take place in some species after the
fectionate than controls. Extended contact mothers
sensitive period has elapsed. They cited literature
also breastfed until a later age. On the basis of these
showing that perinatal hormonal changes render
studies, Klaus and Kennell (1976) proclaimed that
mammalian mothers more sensitive to certain off-
in humans too, there was a sensitive period after
spring stimuli which may be visual, olfactory or
birth which was optimal for parent-child attachment.
tactile. For example, in goats (Klopfer, 1971) smell
They also pointed out that infants' tendency to be

5
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

alert during the hour after birth facilitated this proc- bonding (1976) Klaus and Kennell speculated one
ess. important contributory variable might the mothers'
care by her own mother is likely. Bowlby, similarly,
Bonding studies meshed well with attachment
had acknowledged this idea in his earliest writings
theory, and suggested that the mother's ability to
(1940), and reiterated it his volume on Separation
hold her infant and interact with it immediately af-
(1973):
ter birth is a powerful factor in the development of
maternal sensitivity. Unfortunately, the original Because in all these respects chil-
studies had methodological weaknesses and subse- dren tend unwittingly to identify
quent studies of bonding yielded more equivocal with parents and therefore to
results. Lamb (1982) criticized the initial findings adopt, when they become parents,
because personnel collecting data in these studies the same patterns of behaviour
knew to which group mothers had been assigned. towards children that they them-
Egeland and Vaughn (1981) found no evidence that selves have experienced during
mothers with extended early contact were less their own childhood, patterns of
likely to abuse their infants than mothers without interaction are transmitted, more
such contact, as had been suggested by Klaus and or less faithfully, from one gen-
Kennell (1976). Finally, many subsequent attempt eration to another. Thus the in-
to replicate the original findings either failed heritance of mental health and of
(Swejda, Campos, & Emde, 1980; Taylor, Taylor, mental ill health through the me-
Campbell, and others, 1979) or showed only short- dium of family microculture is
lived effects (de Chateau, 1980; Hopkins & Vietze, certainly no less important, and
1977; Grossmann, Thane, & Grossmann, 1982), may well be far more important,
lasting for days, not months, or years. Indeed, at the than is their inheritance through
International Conference on Infant Studies in 1978, the medium of genes. (p. 323).
Klaus and Kennell themselves announced that "the
When these ideas were belatedly taken up by attach-
epoxy theory of mother-infant bonding is dead."
ment researchers in the 1980s, they yielded pro-
This is not to deny that, when the birth process has
vocative findings. These did not strictly support the
gone well, the encounter with the newborn is often
notion that individuals parent their children as they
a magic moment for mothers and fathers
were parented. Instead of discovering a direct con-
(Bretherton, Biringen, & Ridgeway, 1989; Green-
nection between security or insecurity of current
berg & Morris, 1973). We owe it to Klaus and Ken-
parent-child relations and reported quality of the
nell's efforts to humanize the birth environment that
parent's childhood attachments, these studies
parents are now able to enjoy these moments.
showed that the content of parental memories was
If sensitive parenting is an index of the quality less important than whether the parents were able to
of parental bonding, we can actually make more discuss these memories with emotional openness
robust predictions of this index from knowledge of and coherence (Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985;
prenatal measures of parental personality than from Ricks, 1985). Sometimes "ghosts" from the nursery
early, extended contact. A series of studies have (Fraiberg, Adelson and Shapiro, 1975) can evidently
revealed that prenatally assessed personality and be laid to rest. Main et al. additionally discovered
marital functioning is correlated with the quality of that children classified as secure with their mothers
later mother-infant interaction (e.g. Grossman, as infants were later able to discuss attachment is-
Eichler, & Winikoff, 1980; Moss, 1967; Brunquell, sues openly and coherently with another adult.
Crichton, & Egeland, 1981). For example, Heinicke Taken together, these studies suggest that attach-
(1983) successfully predicted the quality of mother- ment partners who can communicate appropriately
child interaction and of maternal responsiveness and with emotional openness within relationships
from adaptation-competence scales derived from are also better able to communicate coherently and
the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. openly communicate about such relationships with
Most recently, attachment research has suggested third persons. In this section, I review this new body
that intergenerational factors have a significant role of literature, linking it to Bowlby's concept of inter-
to play in subsequent parental attachment. nal working models of self and other in attachment
relationships in order to explain the intergenera-
Internal working models and attachment
tional transmission of attachment patterns (see also
In their summary of research on maternal-infant Bretherton, 1990, 1991).

6
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

In a ground-breaking study Main et al. (l985) with a specific child. The studies by Fonagy et al.
discovered that the quality of children's attachment and by Ward et al. were therefore especially impor-
to parents--as observed at l and 6 years of age--is tant because their Adult Attachment Interviews
impressively correlated with specific patterns of were conducted before the infant's birth. Selective
parental responding to the Berkeley Adult Attach- recall can therefore not explain why insecure
ment Interview. This structured, open-ended inter- (dismissing and preoccupied) interviews predicted
view probed for parental recollections of childhood insecure attachment classifications at one year of
attachment figures, as well as for thoughts about the age.
significance of attachment relations in general, in-
In her longitudinal study Main et al. (l985) also
cluding their influence on the parent's own develop-
discovered that 6-year-olds classified as secure with
ment. To evaluate the interview, Main et al. (1985)
mother in infancy (on the basis of Strange Situation
eschewed the more usual procedure of analyzing
behavior) gave coherent, elaborated, and open re-
responses to each question. Rather, each interview
sponses to drawings parent-child separation scenes,
transcript was examined as a whole. This overall
graded from mild to stressful. In addition, these
analysis of the interview text revealed that parents
children tended to volunteer information regarding
of 6-year-olds classified as secure with them in in-
their own separation experiences. In contrast, chil-
fancy valued both attachment and autonomy, and
dren earlier judged insecure-avoidant with mother
were at ease when discussing the influence of at-
described the pictured children as sad, but could not
tachment-related issues upon their own develop-
say what they could have done in response to sepa-
ment (whether or not they recalled a secure child-
ration. Children classified as disorganized/
hood).
disoriented (Main and Hesse, 1990) were often
Parents of children who were classified as inse- completely silent or gave irrational or bizarre re-
cure-avoidant with them in infancy, dismissed and sponses (Main et al., l985; for similar findings see
devalued attachment, feeling that early attachment Cassidy, 1988; Slough and Greenberg, 1990).
experiences had little effect on their own develop-
Building on Main et al.'s (1985) findings, Bre-
ment. They frequently claimed not to remember
therton, Ridgeway and Cassidy (1990) undertook a
any incidents from childhood. Specific memories
study of even younger children. These 37-month-
that emerged despite this denial were likely not to
olds were asked to complete attachment doll story
support the generalized (often highly idealized) de-
stems. If children addressed the story-issues with
scriptions of parents.
little hesitation, and invented benign resolutions,
Parents of children previously classified as inse- they were classified as secure. If, on the other hand,
cure-resistant seemed preoccupied with earlier fam- they produced irrelevant or very bizarre story reso-
ily attachments. These parents were able to recall lutions (after a separated family is reunited, they
many specific, often conflict-ridden incidents about have a car-crash) or if had to be prompted for a re-
childhood attachments but could not integrate them sponse many times, the children were classified as
into an overall picture. In sum, both the dismissing insecure. Secure-insecure classifications of doll-
and preoccupied groups found it difficult to discuss story responses were highly concordant with classi-
attachment relationships in an integrated way. fications of an actual separation-reunion procedure.
Finally, parents of children classified as inse-
cure-disorganized in infancy seemed to be strug- These assessments suggest that children's repre-
gling with unresolved issues concerning loss of a sentations of attachment relations as produced in
parent before maturity (see Main & Solomon, verbal or enacted narratives reflect actual relation-
1990). Since l985, these results have been repli- ships. In other words, how a child communicates
cated in two other samples (Eichberg, l987; (behaves) within an attachment relationship can
Grossmann, Fremmer-Bombik, Rudolph, and help predict how that child communicates about at-
Grossmann, in press; Fonagy, Steele, & Steele, in tachment relationships to a third person. This also
press; Ward, Carlson, Altman, Levine, Greenberg holds for parents (Bretherton, Biringen, & Ridge-
& Kessler (1990). way, 1989), and for young adults (Kobak & Sceery,
1988).
One could, of course, argue that correlations
between infant-parent attachment and the parent's ...................When these ideas were belatedly taken
account of his or her own childhood attachment up by attachment researchers in the 1980s, they
derive from selective recall cued by the experience yielded provocative findings. These did not strictly

7
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

support the notion that individuals parent their chil- that emerged despite this denial were likely not to
dren as they were parented. Instead of discovering a support the generalized (often highly idealized) de-
direct connection between security or insecurity of scriptions of parents.
current parent-child relations and reported quality
Parents of children previously classified as inse-
of the parent's childhood attachments, these studies
cure-resistant seemed preoccupied with earlier fam-
showed that the content of parental memories was
ily attachments. These parents were able to recall
less important than whether the parents were able to
many specific, often conflict-ridden incidents about
discuss these memories with emotional openness
childhood attachments but could not integrate them
and coherence (Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985;
into an overall picture. In sum, both the dismissing
Ricks, 1985). Sometimes "ghosts" from the nursery
and preoccupied groups found it difficult to discuss
(Fraiberg, Adelson and Shapiro, 1975) can evi-
attachment relationships in an integrated way.
dently be laid to rest. Main et al. additionally dis-
covered that children classified as secure with their Finally, parents of children classified as inse-
mothers as infants were later able to discuss attach- cure-disorganized in infancy seemed to be strug-
ment issues openly and coherently with another gling with unresolved issues concerning loss of a
adult. Taken together, these studies suggest that parent before maturity (see Main & Solomon,
attachment partners who can communicate appro- 1990). Since l985, these results have been replicated
priately and with emotional openness within rela- in two other samples (Eichberg, l987; Grossmann,
tionships are also better able to communicate coher- Fremmer-Bombik, Rudolph, and Grossmann, in
ently and openly communicate about such relation- press; Fonagy, Steele, & Steele, in press; Ward,
ships with third persons. In this section, I review Carlson, Altman, Levine, Greenberg & Kessler
this new body of literature, linking it to Bowlby's (1990).
concept of internal working models of self and
other in attachment relationships in order to explain One could, of course, argue that correlations be-
the intergenerational transmission of attachment tween infant-parent attachment and the parent's ac-
patterns (see also Bretherton, 1990, 1991). count of his or her own childhood attachment derive
from selective recall cued by the experience with a
In a ground-breaking study Main et al. (l985) specific child. The studies by Fonagy et al. and by
discovered that the quality of children's attachment Ward et al. were therefore especially important be-
to parents--as observed at l and 6 years of age--is cause their Adult Attachment Interviews were con-
impressively correlated with specific patterns of ducted before the infant's birth. Selective recall can
parental responding to the Berkeley Adult Attach- therefore not explain why insecure (dismissing and
ment Interview. This structured, open-ended inter- preoccupied) interviews predicted insecure attach-
view probed for parental recollections of childhood ment classifications at one year of age.
attachment figures, as well as for thoughts about the
significance of attachment relations in general, in- In her longitudinal study Main et al. (l985) also
cluding their influence on the parent's own develop- discovered that 6-year-olds classified as secure with
ment. To evaluate the interview, Main et al. (1985) mother in infancy (on the basis of Strange Situation
eschewed the more usual procedure of analyzing behavior) gave coherent, elaborated, and open re-
responses to each question. Rather, each interview sponses to drawings parent-child separation scenes,
transcript was examined as a whole. This overall graded from mild to stressful. In addition, these
analysis of the interview text revealed that parents children tended to volunteer information regarding
of 6-year-olds classified as secure with them in in- their own separation experiences. In contrast, chil-
fancy valued both attachment and autonomy, and dren earlier judged insecure-avoidant with mother
were at ease when discussing the influence of at- described the pictured children as sad, but could not
tachment-related issues upon their own develop- say what they could have done in response to sepa-
ment (whether or not they recalled a secure child- ration. Children classified as disorganized/
hood). disoriented (Main and Hesse, 1990) were often
completely silent or gave irrational or bizarre re-
Parents of children who were classified as inse- sponses (Main et al., l985; for similar findings see
cure-avoidant with them in infancy, dismissed and Cassidy, 1988; Slough and Greenberg, 1990).
devalued attachment, feeling that early attachment
experiences had little effect on their own develop- Building on Main et al.'s (1985) findings, Bre-
ment. They frequently claimed not to remember therton, Ridgeway and Cassidy (1990) undertook a
any incidents from childhood. Specific memories study of even younger children. These 37-month-

8
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

olds were asked to complete attachment doll story erate on information in the "scratch
stems. If children addressed the story-issues with space" (Hendrix, l979) to generate new information,
little hesitation, and invented benign resolutions, and 5) procedures whereby new information con-
they were classified as secure. If, on the other hand, structed in working memory is fed back into the
they produced irrelevant or very bizarre story reso- long-term representational system or knowledge
lutions (after a separated family is reunited, they base.
have a car-crash) or if had to be prompted for a re-
Different cognitive theorists have concerned
sponse many times, the children were classified as
themselves with different aspects of this problem.
insecure. Secure-insecure classifications of doll-
For example, in a recent reworking of Craik's (1943)
story responses were highly concordant with classi-
concept, Johnson-Laird (l983)) writes about advan-
fications of an actual separation-reunion procedure.
tages of being able to construct and test mental
These assessments suggest that children's repre- models in working memory. He discovered that rea-
sentations of attachment relations as produced in soning ability improves markedly when adults are
verbal or enacted narratives reflect actual relation- able to construct a mental model of a concrete prob-
ships. In other words, how a child communicates lem situation, and declines when the same problem
(behaves) within an attachment relationship can is presented in terms of abstract symbols (Wason &
help predict how that child communicates about Johnson-Laird, 1972). Although he assumes that to
attachment relationships to a third person. This also construct such concrete models of reality an individ-
holds for parents (Bretherton, Biringen, & Ridge- ual must be able to retrieve from longterm memory
way, 1989), and for young adults (Kobak & Sceery, relevant elements (representations of people or ob-
1988). jects) and relations (spatial, temporal, causal) from
which to compose such models, Johnson-Laird does
Before I go on to discuss how working models
not reflect on what type of longterm memory or-
mediate the link between quality of communication
ganization might be required.
patterns within attachment relationships and about
attachment relationships, I would like to more Other theorists, by contrast, have concerned
closely examine Bowlby's notion of working mod- themselves with the structure of longterm memory,
els in the context of current theories of representa- without paying much heed to issues of retrieval and
tion. extrapolation of old information to new situations.
For example, building on Bartlett's (l933) work on
Note that the concept of internal working model
remembering, Mandler (l979), Neisser (1988), Nel-
implies a representational system that operates with
son & Gruendel (l981), and Schank and Abelson
dynamic event- or agent-action-object structures in
(1977) proposed hypothetical entities, termed event
order to simulate relatiy. When Bowlby first incor-
schemas or scripts, that were defined as sequentially
porated the concept of internal working models into
organized representational structures with "slots" for
his writings, no existing theory of mental represen-
specific agent-roles, for action sequences motivated
tation dealt with thinking as internal simulation of
by specific goals and emotions, for recipients of ac-
real-world action. In the meantime, progress in cog-
tions, and for locales. Schank and Abelson argued
nitive science has provided some useful hints.
that in processing new recurrences of familiar event
The term internal working model can be used in individuals "instantiate" the relevant stored script or
two senses: models that are stored in long-term event schema to help predict what might happen
memory and models that are "composed" in short- next. However, Schank and Abelson do not specify
term or working memory to understand new situa- how the relevant script is identified and retrieved,
tions as the need arises. The storage, retrieval, op- nor do they solve the problem of how an indivudal
eration and construction of working models in long- might extrapolate to new, never before encountered
term and working memory would seem to require at events.
least the following: 1) a flexibly and hierarchically
Some conceptual help comes from Schank's
organized representational system that stores infor-
(1982) revised formulation of script theory in which
mation in such a way that, when retrieved, it can be
he refined his ideas about the organization of long-
operated upon as "inner world" 2) procedures
term memory. In this later work he argued that com-
whereby specific aspects of this information can be
ponents of episodic or autobiographical memories
located when necessary, 3) procedures whereby this
are reprocessed, partitioned, cross-indexed, and
information is retrieved into a temporary "scratch
summarized into a variety of different schema cate-
space" in working memory, 4) procedures that op-
gories each of which simulate some aspect of the

9
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

spatio-temporal-causal-affective- motivational person" and "I am loved", each subsuming a variety


structure of experience. Only some of these sche- of lower level schemas.
mas organize mini-event representations into coor-
Note also that there is no need to postulate that
dinated, longer event sequences (such the "script"
all of these schemas are directly accessible to con-
of going to a restaurant or putting a baby to bed),
scious reflection. Some may only be available as
others summarize information derived from similar
procedural knowledge. It may be most fruitful to
mini-events (e.g. all infant-mother feeding situa-
think of internal working models as composed of
tions regardless of context), and yet others general-
hierarchically organized schema systems with an
ize across different event sequences (e.g. all care-
unknown but finite number of levels, rather than as
giving routines). Note that Schank's new conceptu-
dual-level models composed of episodic and seman-
alization blurs the distinction between episodic
tic memories as suggested by Bowlby (1980). Cur-
(autobiographical) and semantic memory (the ge-
rent theorizing is also concordant with the notion
neric knowledge base) as originally proposed by
that internal working models of self and other con-
Tulving (l972, 1983), and substitutes instead a set
sist of interlinked web of schema hierarchies, not a
or web of multiply interconnected hierarchies com-
single hierarchy as proposed by Epstein
posed of schemas that range from being very ex-
(1973,1980). In fact, an individual's schema hierar-
perience-near to being very general and abstract.
chies of self, other and world are probably not
These hierarchies are constructed and continually
neatly segregated from each other, because all sche-
revised and refined on the basis of new input (for
mas (i.e. of the physical environment, of "human
related ideas see Nelson, l986), and thus provide
nature", of attachment relationships in general, and
the building blocks for the recombination of ele-
of specific relationships) are likely to feed back into
ments of old schemas or part-schemas into new
each other (Guidano & Liotti, 1983).
mental models, although the question of retrieval is
not addressed. Related ideas were proposed by Finally, whereas Schank (1982) was not specifi-
Neisser (1988) who emphasized the obvious fact cally concerned with biased or incomplete process-
that humans can remember the same event at many ing of experience, his revised theory can provide at
levels of analysis (e.g. the global structure of an least some tools for rethinking the operation of de-
event such as a conference; specific talks given dur- fensive phenomena in the construction of working
ing the conference; and sometimes particular pro- models. If portions of an individual's autobiographi-
nouncements made during a specific talk), with cal memories enter into cross-referenced schemas at
lower-order events nested in those of higher order. many levels in a variety of schema hierarchies, it is
possible to see how defensive processes might se-
How does this help us conceptualize internal
lectively interfere in this cross-referencing. For ex-
working models of self and other in attachment re-
ample, one might speculate that material which has
lations? Is it not true that theories of event represen-
been defensively excluded from recall as an auto-
tation were primarily generated in response to a
biographical memory might still influence schema
need to explain children's and adult's understanding
formation at other levels (i.e. general schemas about
of common routines such as eating at a restaurant or
parenting), thus making the model internally incon-
having lunch at the daycare center? Despite the fact
sistent and contradictory. The converse might also
that they were developed with a different aim in
occur. Autobiographical episodes may be accessible
mind, I suggest that theories of event representation
to consciousness, but be prevented from extensive
are entirely consonant with the idea that individuals
further processing, and therefore from proper inte-
may develop mental models of relationships with
gration into the individual's working model of the
specific partners. They accord well with Epstein's
world. Once the lines of communication within the
(l973, l980) notion of the self-concept as a hierar-
representational system (working model of the
chy of postulates (or schemas, as I prefer to call
world) are partially or completely severed, later in-
them). At the lowest level would be interactional
put will not be adequately processed because dis-
schemas that are very experience-near ("When I
torted or dissociated schemas now guide the proc-
hurt myself, my mommy always comes to comfort
essing of new experience (Erdelyi, l985).
and help me"). Above this level would be more
general schemas ("My mommy is usually there for I therefore suggest that we get away from the
me when I need her") that subsume a variety of idea that an insecure individual may have two sepa-
lower-level schemas of need-fulfilling events with rate but well organized working models of the same
mother. Somewhere near the top of the hierarchy relationship, one based on semantic memory and
would be such schemas as "My mother is a loving accessible to conscious reflection and verbal discus-

10
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

sion, and a second based on episodic or autobio- struct adequate, well-organized internal working
graphical memory but defensively excluded from models of interpersonal relations. This is likely to
awareness. Instead, I favor the view that insecure have two serious consequences:
individuals have an ill-organized working model of
1) both partners will experience continuing diffi-
self and attachment figure in which many relevant
culties in communicating effectively with each
schemas or schema networks are dissociated from
other, and
one another across and within hierarchical levels,
hence giving rise to contradictory communication 2) both partners' inadequate working models will
with others. In such an ill-organized model updat- be difficult to update adequately as the relationships
ing of information may occur at one level of the develops and/or the environment demands (for more
hierarchy, but may then not propagate to others; or details regarding developmental implications see
schemas of what should or might be may not be Bretherton, 1987).
clearly tagged as such and hence treated as schemas
of actual circumstances. The possible confusions, Under this view, the converse happens for secure
contradictions and distortions in the interpretation parents whose internal working model of attachment
and conduct of attachment relations that such mal- figures and of attachment relationships in general is
functioning and hence inflexible internal working well-organized and reasonably consistent within and
models could generate are endless. Further research across hierarchical levels. Such parents are likely to
on defensive processes will, of course, be necessary give the infant helpful and informative feedback,
to clarify these ideas further, in particular as they and this will in turn facilitate flexible adaptation to
pertain to the organizational levels at which biased other relationships. Furthermore, both partners' in-
storage and retrieval of information is taking place. ternal working models will be easier to update, be-
Dismissing adults and avoidant children seem to cause the relevant schemas are connected to one
keep schemas within and across hierarchical levels another in systematic ways, within and across hier-
compartmentalized so that activation of one schema archical levels of the representational system
leaves the other unaffected. Preoccupied adults and whether the schemas are directly accessible to
resistant children, by contrast, seem unable to use awareness or not.
autobiographical memories to create summary If this approach to working models is correct
schemas of their attachment relationships. several things follow:
Seen from this perspective, recent findings on 1) Because reorganization or reconstruction of an
intergenerational transmission of secure or insecure ill-organized working model acquired in an unsatis-
attachment patterns become more comprehensible. fying attachment relationships will require integra-
Even before the birth of an infant, parents have an- tion of dissociated or segregated information at
ticipatory working models of themselves as parents, many different levels, insight at one level is not
and of the unborn infant (Zeanah, Keener, Stewart, automatically followed by insight at another level.
& Anders, l985; Brazelton & Cramer, 1990). When The reconstruction of such ill-organized working
the infant is born, these anticipatory working mod- models will require change at many levels.
els must be corrected and fine-tuned to fit the indi-
vidual baby's temperament and needs (see also 2) The developing infant encounters in the parent's
Stern, 1985). This task will be relatively easy if the behavior the output of the parent's current working
new parents' internal working models are coherent model of self in attachment relationships. If a parent
and well organized, and if schemas, whether or not with unhappy childhood attachments has been able
they are accessible to awareness, have not been de- to rework an initially ill-organized working model
fensively distorted in a major way. It will be much into a coherent, well-organized representation of
more difficult if the parent's internal working mod- early attachment relationships, whether satisfying or
els are ill organized. In this case, a parent is not not, and if that parent has also been able to construct
only likely to misinterpret attachment signals from a new working model of self in a supportive attach-
an infant, but is also likely provide misleading feed- ment relationship, the infant will not experience a
back, thereby making it difficult for the infant to reenactment of the parent's unhappy childhood rela-
"get it right" (Emde, personal communication). In tions. On the basis of open and adequate reciprocal
other words, a parent with a distorted, ill-organized communication, such an infant will develop a secure
working model of attachment relations is likely, in attachment despite the fact that the parent has not
turn, to communicate with his or her infant in such experienced secure relations in childhood him- or
a way as to interfere with the infant's ability to con- herself. Main and Goldwyn (in press) as well as

11
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

other investigators using the adult attachment inter- (Fish, Belsky, & Youngblade, 1991) shows that par-
view have found corroborating evidence for such a ents who violate intergenerational boundaries by
position. inappropriately involving a 4-year-old child in
spousal decision-making differ from parent who do
As previously noted, sensitive parental respon-
not, both in terms of earlier attachment classifica-
siveness (Ainsworth et al., l974), requires that the
tions with the child and in terms of observed marital
parent be ready to take the baby's perspective, to
interaction.
understand the baby's goals, and to respond to them
empathically. Without adequate internal working The well-known work on parent-adolescent com-
models of self as parent in relation to a specific in- munication by Hauser and his colleagues (Hauser,
fant the parent cannot provide appropriate empathic Powers, Noam, Jacobson, Weiss, & Follansbee,
feedback or acknowledge the infant's signals. If a 1984) is highly compatible with attachment theory,
high proportion of a child's attachment or autonomy though it predated work on internal working mod-
signals are not heeded or misread, open communi- els. Hauser et al. found that adolescent ego-
cation within attachment relationships will be im- development is related to the communication styles
peded because defensively excluded material can- adopted by parents toward the adolescent during a
not be used for error-correcting feedback. This, in familial conflict resolution task. Adolescent with
turn will lead the child to develop inadequate inter- high levels of ego development had parents both of
nal working models of self. whom engaged in more enabling versus constrain-
ing and devaluing discourse toward the adolescent.
Attachment, Family and Society
This study is also consonant with Kobak's &
Although we have made progress in examining Sceery's study of young adults, using the Adult At-
mother-child attachment in terms of representation tachment Interview.
and communication, much work remains to be done
Research on marital relations and divorce has
in terms of other attachment related phenomena in
been informed by attachment theory since the 1970s
the family. For example, we need to gain a much
(Weiss, 1973, 1977, 1982), but has taken a recent
better understanding of child-father attachment,
upsurge with work by Shaver and Hazan (1988).
despite studies by Belsky, Gilstrap and Rovine
These authors translated Ainsworth's infant attach-
(1984), Lamb (1978), and Parke and Tinsley (1987)
ment patterns into the study of adult love relation-
that show fathers to be competent if sometimes less
ships, pointing out that adults who describe them-
than fully participant attachment figures. In Main et
selves as secure, avoidant and ambivalent with re-
al.'s study infant-father attachment classifications
spect to romantic relationships report differing pat-
were less strongly related to the father's Adult At-
terns of parent-child relations in their families of
tachment Interview classifications than had been
origin. Finally, Cicirelli (1989, in press) is applying
found for the mother. Another important topic is
attachment theory to the study of middle-aged sib-
sibling attachment which has been tackled by Stew-
lings and their elderly parents. Thus, attachment the-
art and Marvin (1984) as well as Teti and Ablard
ory and research has been extended to family dyads
(1989), but their work is only a beginning. Dunn
other than the mother-child couple, and is now con-
(1988) has undertaken an interesting study of tri-
cerned with all phases of the life course. Future
adic relations between a mother and two siblings,
work will be needed to delineate more fully the dis-
an important topic that has so far been neglected by
tinct qualities of child-adult, child-child, and adult-
attachment researchers. What is more, although tri-
adult attachment relationships, and their interplay
adic studies of parent-child relationships have be-
within the family system as well as to study these
come more common (for a discussion, see Bronfen-
relationships from the communication/ representa-
brenner and Crouter, 1982, p. 380; see also Clarke-
tion perspective adopted in this chapter.
Stewart, 1979; Lewis & Feiring, 1979), our under-
standing of family triads is not nearly as advanced Finally, although attachment theory speaks to
as our understanding of dyads. This is especially the intergenerational transmission of parenting pat-
true when we consider topics such as loyalty con- terns, it does not explicitly deal with the continued
flicts, alliances by a dyad vis-a-vis a third family sex-gender differentiation of parenting. Some femi-
member and enmeshment of a child in the spousal nist theorists have interpreted attachment theory as a
dyad. These topics are highly relevant to attach- theory that supports the traditional view of women
ment theory, though they have not been considered as primary caregivers (Chodorow, 1978; Johnson,
by attachment theorists and researchers, though this 1988). This is not strictly justified because attach-
trend may be changing. A recent exploratory study ment theory does not specify that caregiving must

12
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

be done by mothers, or be restricted to females related to insecure-ambivalent attachment when the


(Marris, 1982). Most central to healthy develop- mother is mature, with a satisfying marriage and a
ment, according to attachment theory, is infants' supportive social network;" or "To what extent is
need for a committed caregiving relationship with neonatal alertness not related to later security when
one or a few adult figures. Although the majority of mothers are psychologically immature and involved
attachment studies have focused on mothers be- in unsatisfying marriages?" The data structure, how-
cause mothers tend to most often fill this role, we ever, was simpler: It did not matter which specific
do have evidence that infants can be attached to a variables (personality, marital satisfaction, per-
hierarchy of figures including fathers, grandparents ceived and observed child temperament) were ex-
and siblings (Schaffer & Emerson, 1964) as well as amined. When all factors functioned in a positive,
daycare providers. However, our knowledge about supportive mode, attachment was secure. When all
the range of societal options for successfully shar- functioned in a nonsupportive mode, attachment
ing the task of bringing up children is still woefully was insecure. Finally, Belsky and Isabella (1988)
inadequate. The recent spate of studies document- showed that maternal personality was both directly
ing an increased risk of insecure attachment if day- and indirectly related (via marital change) to secure
care begins in the first year and is extensive in du- attachment.
ration (Belsky & Rovine, 1988) is worrisome, al-
Cross-cultural Studies
though cross-cultural studies of attachment and
daycare in countries such as Sweden or Israel may Moving from family and social network, to the
ultimately provide some reliable answers. larger societal matrix, studies of Ainsworth Strange
Situation classifications in other cultures have
Attachment in the Context of Family
sparked a lively debate on the universal versus cul-
and Society
ture-specific meaning of attachment patterns as-
Family and Social Network sessed in the Strange Situation. In a North-German
study, avoidant Strange Situation classifications
Aside from further studies of other attachment
were overrepresented (Grossmann, Grossmann,
dyads across the lifespan, we also need studies that
Spangler, Suess, and Unzer, 1985). In Israeli kibbut-
embed attachment in the larger context of family,
zim (Sagi, Lamb, Lewkowitz, Shoham, Dvir, and
social network and society. A prime example of one
Estes, 1985) and in Japanese samples (Miyake,
study that systematically explores family and social
Chen, & Campos, 1985), on the other hand, ambiva-
network factors as they affect attachment relations
lent classifications were overrepresented.
was the Pennsylvania Infant and Family Develop-
ment Project (e.g. Belsky, Rovine, & Taylor, 1984; Initial interpretations of these cross-national dif-
Belsky & Isabella, 1988). At issue was the predic- ferences were couched in purely cultural terms.
tion of infant-mother attachment security at the end Thus, Grossmann et al. (1985) proposed that the
of the child's first year from a set of theoretically high incidence of avoidant infants in Germany could
guided variables that included not only the mother's not be attributed to a higher incidence of rejection
evaluation of the social support she received from among German parents. Rather, German parents
her spouse and from extrafamilial sources. Interest- placed more emphasis on self-reliance toward the
ingly, mother-child attachment quality at the end of end of the first year. Hence, avoidant classifications
the first year was predictable not from absolute lev- in Germany and the U.S. did not carry the same
els of marital satisfaction before or after the child's meaning for the participants in the relationship.
birth, but from relative changes in levels of satisfac- Similarly, the high frequency of ambivalent classifi-
tion. Marital satisfaction declined in all families, cations observed in Israeli kibbutzim and Japan
but parents of secure infants reported significantly were said to be due to the fact that kibbutz infants
less decline in marital satisfaction than parents of were rarely exposed to complete strangers (Sagi et
insecure infants. al, 1985) or that Japanese infants were rarely left
with a stranger (Miyake et al., 1985). Unfortunately
Regarding the social network variables, it was
these cultural explanations were neither based on
not frequency of supportive behaviors, but the par-
systematic assessments of parental beliefs, nor on
ents' rating of neighbors as friendly and helpful that
close observations of parent-infant interaction.
were significantly correlated with the infant's se-
cure attachment to mother. Belsky had originally Since the publication of these studies, van IJzen-
planned to ask such complex questions of the data doorn & Kroonenberg (1988) examined frequency
as: "To what extent is being an irritable infant not distributions of Strange Situation classifications

13
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

from over a thousand U.S. and cross-national stud- insist on more focalized relations with their own
ies, pointing out that valid conclusions about cross- mothers, but other female caregivers continue to
national differences cannot be drawn from single play a significant role. Caregiving by mother and
samples. Even within the U.S., certain classifica- other adults is sensitive and responsive until the
tions are over- or underrepresented in particular third year of life when growing demands are placed
studies. More importantly, correlations between on toddlers, and requests for nursing and comforting
observed mother-infant interactions and Strange increasingly denied, despite the fact that the care-
Situation classifications were quite similar in North giving adults are quite aware of the stress this places
Germany and the Ainsworth's Baltimore study. upon the toddler.
Similarly, Sagi, Avizer, Mayseless, Donnell, &
Tronick explains Efe caregiving practices in
Joels (1991) now attribute the abundance of am-
terms of two conflicting requirements. On the one
bivalent Strange Situation classifications to specific
hand, families live in closely spaced dwellings that
night-time caregiving arrangements in the kibbut-
offer little privacy. For this reason, cooperation and
zim he studied, rather than to differences in experi-
sharing are highly valued behaviors. On the other
ences with strangers. Israeli city infants in full-time
the Efe move camp frequently and group composi-
daycare did not show the same preponderance of
tion is flexible, with families moving in and out of
ambivalent classifications. Taken in combination,
the group. Tronick contends that flecibility of group
these findings suggest that Strange Situation classi-
membership calls for an ability to let go of close
fications, and hence the concept of parental sensi-
relationships. Whether or not Tronick's interpreta-
tivity, may have more crosscultural validity in in-
tion coincides with the Efe's own, his study demon-
dustrialized nations than was initially believed.
strates that attachment behavior is never purely in-
Systematic work on the more interesting topic stinctive, but is heavily overlain with cultural pre-
of how different cultures--especially non-Western scriptions even in a society that much more closely
cultures--fit attachment behaviors and relationships resembes the conditions of human evolution than
into their overall social organization, has barely our own. To better explore cultural variations in at-
begun. There are, however, some tantalizing sug- tachment organization attempted by societies with
gestions in the ethnographic literature (see Brether- different living arrangements and value systems, the
ton, 1985, for a review). For example, the Microne- field needs ecologically valid, theory-driven obser-
sian society of Tikopia (Firth, 1936) deliberately vational and interview measures, tailored to these
fosters attachment between an infant and its mater- specific cultures and based on a deeper knowledge
nal uncle by prescribing that he engage in face-to- of parents' and children's folk theories about family
face talk with the infant on a regular basis. This ma- relationships in these cultures.
ternal uncle is destined to play an important quasi-
Concluding Remarks
parental role in the life of the child. Along some-
what different lines, Balinese mothers control their The discussion of cultural specificity in
infants' exploratory behavior by using fake fear ex- attachment patterns raises a larger question concern-
pressions to brings the infants back into close prox- ing the societal support for attachment relationships.
imity to them (Bateson & Mead, 1942). In both In a thought-provoking chapter, Marris (1991)
places, a biological system is molded to a particular points to the fundamental tension between the desire
society's purposes (fostering specific relationships, to create a secure and predictable social order and
controlling exploration). the desire to maximize one's own opportunities at
the expense of others. The opportunity to provide
Especially instructive is a recent study based on
optimal support to a developing child is not equally
observation of everyday parent-infant interaction
open to all parents. A good society, according to
amongst the Efe, a semi-nomadic group whose
Marris, would be one which, as far as is humanly
members live in the African rain forest, subsisting
possible, minimizes disruptive events, protects each
on foraging, horticulture and hunting (Tronick,
child's experience of attachment from harm, and
Winn, & Morelli, 1985). The Efe's child-rearing
supports family coping. Yet in order to control un-
system relies on multiple caregiving by the group's
certainty, individuals and families are tempted to
adult women. During the first six months of life
achieve certainty at the expense of others (i.e. by
infants receive more care (including nursing) from
imposing a greater burden of uncertainty on them,
other adult women than from their own mother,
by oroviding fewer material and social resources).
though they sleep exclusively with her at night. Be-
Secure attachment requires predictability, respon-
ginning at around 6 months, infants nevertheless
siveness, intelligibility, supportiveness, and recip-

14
Bretherton Attachment and bonding

rocity of commitment. Where powerful groups in and social-contextual determinants of attachment


society promote their own control over life circum- security. In J. Belsky and T. Nezworski (Eds.),
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Belsky, J., Rovine, M. & Taylor, D. (1984). The
ing of attachment relations thus has political and
Pennsylvania Infant and Family Development
moral implications for society, not just psychologi-
Project II: Origins of individual differences in
cal implications for attachment dyads.
infant-mother attachment: Maternal and infant
contributions. Child Development, 55, 706-717.
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