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Attachment theory

Attachment theory was first developed by Bowlby (1979), using empirical research of case studies and interviews about parents’ childhood relational histories (Bretherton, 1992). He was also influenced by etiology and psychoanalytic object relational ideas. Almost simultaneously, but independently of Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth started to develop security theory, which submitted that children must develop secure dependence on parents before they can venture into unfamiliar situations (Bretherton, 1992). Later, working together with Bowlby, Ainsworth developed the observational method of a parent-children dyad, and from that, the Strange Situation Protocol has become a widely used standardized research tool. This protocol categorizes children’s attachment to their parents in three ways: secure, anxious-avoidant and anxious-ambivalent or resistant (Bretherton, 1992).

In 1984, based on the above research and using the categories they defined, George, Kaplan, and Main developed the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) (Hesse, 2008). The AAI assesses adult attachment styles by gathering information regarding the interviewee’s interpersonal relationships. These relationships first developed in childhood, eliciting primary caregivers’ care and a secure base. The AAI tracks how those early experiences will influence our sense of self and our way of relating over time. In developing the AAI, Mary Main (1996) also identified a fourth attachment style: the disorganised. (Hesse, 2008, Crittenden and Landini, 2011). Disorganised attachment develops by having frightening or frightened caregivers from trauma and unresolved loss.


Bowlby, J. (1979). The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds. New York, Canada, Routhledge Classics.

Bretherton, I. (1992). The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth Developmental Psychology 28, 759-775.

Crittenden, P. M., Landini, A. (2011). Assessing Adult Attachment: A dynamic-maturational approach to discourse analysis. . New York W. Norton & Company.

Hesse, E. (2008). The Adult Attachment Interview Handbook of Attachment (2 ed.).

Main, M. (1996). Introduction to the Special Section on Attachment and Psychopathology: 2. Overview of the Field of Attachment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 64(2), 237-243.

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