The Development of Attachment

The Development of Attachment

View Segments Segment :

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Embed
  • Help
  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Embed
  • Help
Successfully saved clip
Find all your clips in My Lists
Failed to save clip
  • Transcript
  • Transcript

    Auto-Scroll: ONOFF 
    • 00:01


    • 00:11

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD: Hello.My name is Dr. Geoff MacDonald, and I'm an Associate Professorat the University of Toronto.In this presentation, I will be discussing the developmentof what we call working models of attachment in childhood.I will be covering the following points.Why do we have an attachment system?How does the attachment system normally function?What are working models of attachment?

    • 00:33

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: And what kinds of conditions leadto secure versus insecure attachments?Now it's important to understand attachment,because attachments provide the basisfor satisfying relationships.And sometimes people think that studying relationshipsis kind of a frivolous exercise, but those of us whostudy relationships are beginning to understand

    • 00:53

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: that relationships are absolutelycrucial to mental and physical health.So for example, there's been a number of studies coming outrecently showing that loneliness and social isolationare just as big a risk factor for your mortality as thingslike smoking and obesity.So it's becoming clear that understanding the basis of how

    • 01:14

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: we relate to one another is absolutelycrucial for promoting healthy functioning,both in terms of mental health and in termsof physical health.So why is it that infants and caregiversattach to each other?In essence, the question is why is there such a thing

    • 01:36

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: as love in the first place?Well what we think is that the key to thisis understanding the question froman evolutionary perspective.In evolution, basically the way that youwin the evolutionary game and pass your genes downto future generations is to have children thatgo on to survive themselves.Right, the genes that we have inherited

    • 01:58

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: are from people who have successfullyhad children, who have gone on to have children themselves.So evolution should strongly selectfor anything that helps your children go on to surviveand reproduce themselves.Well the thing is that with human childrenis that human children are very vulnerable.We have this extraordinarily long developmental period

    • 02:19

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: in which children are essentiallyunable to protect themselves.So they need the protection and care of an adult.So evolution should have selectedfor any kind of an adaptation thatwould've motivated children and their caregiversto stay close to one another.And that's what we call the Attachment System.

    • 02:40

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: What we think is that the reason that childrenlove their parents so much, the reason that parentslove their children so much, is because the ones whodid that, those are the genes that we inherited.Kids who didn't care so much about their parents, parentswho didn't care so much about their kids-- their geneswould have been selected out by evolutionary pressures,because those kids wouldn't have survived

    • 03:01

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: to reproduce themselves.The genetic legacy that we have isof caregivers and infants that strongly bondto and love one another.So how does this attachment system function normally?Well what we think is that from an attachment theory

    • 03:22

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: perspective, this love between infants and caregiversstarts with the infant's distress.So the way that the attachment system operatesis that when a child starts to feel distress,that that activates the attachment system.And what the attachment system doesis it promotes mechanisms to get the caregiver's attention.So have you ever noticed, for example, how annoying

    • 03:43

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: it is when a child cries?Well that's no accident, right?If, when a child was distressed, itmade a really pleasing noise thatmade the caregiver feel good, the caregiverwouldn't be motivated to try to ease that child's distress.So what that attachment system isdoing is activating a number of mechanismsto try to bring the caregiver close in order to get soothing

    • 04:04

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: and comfort and relief from whateverit is that's distressing the child.So if the attachment system is working the way that it should,the infant feels distressed, that triggersthe attachment system to do some kind of attention-seeking.The caregiver notices that the child is in distress,and the caregiver comes and easeswhatever the problem is, so that the child then is soothed

    • 04:27

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: and doesn't feel that distress anymore.Ideally, that's the way that the attachment systemis going to work.How does this then translate into what I'm callingworking models of attachment?What are these working models of attachment in the first place?Well basically, because children experience

    • 04:49

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: a lot of distress in their childhood,there's going to be multiple trials where the child signalsthis kind of emotional distress, and then it sees what happens.Is the caregiver going to respond in a sensitive wayto the child's needs that's going to soothe the infant'sdistress?Or will the caregiver do something else-- perhapsrespond insensitively, or perhaps ignore the child?

    • 05:12

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: Well basically, what we think, from an attachment theoryperspective, is this just sets upa situation where it's basic learning theory.I mean, one of the jobs that you have in childhoodis to develop expectations about how the world works.You know, for example, that if you drop something, that it'sgoing to fall to the ground.Well you didn't always know that.That was something that you had to develop

    • 05:34

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: as an expectation in childhood.Well we think that with these working models of attachment,what you're doing is developing these very basic expectationsfor how the social world works.What's going to happen when you reach out to someone whenyou feel distressed?What are your expectations for that kind of a situation?And because you've got trial after trial

    • 05:54

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: after trial of learning what happens when you signaldistress, we think that those becomevery foundational expectations.Now there's two players in this attachment dynamic.There's yourself, and there's the other person.And so what we think, from an attachment theory perspective,is that you develop expectations around how lovable is yourself

    • 06:15

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: and how trustworthy are other people?These are what we call working models--your basic expectations about howyou can expect to get treated and howyou expect other people to respond to people's distress.Now the results of these kinds of working models of attachmentcan be seen beautifully in a paradigm developed

    • 06:35

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: by Mary Ainsworth, who, by the way,did her studies at the University of Toronto.So she set up this thing called the Strange Situation, wherewhat would happen is there would be an infantand a caregiver in a room together.And then at some point, the caregiver would leave the roomand then come back.And the question was, how is it that infantswould respond when their mother was reunited with them?

    • 06:57

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: These working models of attachmentcan be seen in the Strange Situation.So the question is what happens whenthe caregiver leaves the room?But most importantly, what happenswhen that caregiver-- who in mostof the early studies especially, was a mother--returns to the room?How did the children behave?Well Ainsworth identified three different categories or types

    • 07:18

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: of attachment through this paradigm.The first one that she described was Secure Attachment.And what you see from children whoare classified as being securely attached to their caregiveris that when the mother leaves the room,the child is distressed.It cries.That's the attachment system working as it should.There's a threat to that connection between the infant

    • 07:38

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: and the caregiver, and so there's a distress cryto try to get the caregiver's attention again.Then when the caregiver returns, the infantseeks that caregiver out, seeks that caregiver's attention,and eventually is able to calm downand returns to doing other things,like playing with the toys in the room.So that suggests then that this is

    • 07:59

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: a child who feels lovable and feelslike it can trust its mother, that it'sable to be soothed in this Strange Situation.Now there are two other types of attachmentthat Ainsworth described, that areknown as the insecure styles of attachment.The first one is what's called an Anxious Ambivalent Child,or we think that this is a child who,

    • 08:20

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: through repeated interactions with its caregiver,has come to develop a poor working model of self,or a sense that it may not be lovable.So what happens in the Strange Situation isyou see the mother leaves the room,the Anxious Ambivalent Child gets upset.When the mother returns to the room,the Anxious Ambivalent Child seeks out

    • 08:41

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: closeness with that caregiver, but is unable to be soothed.So what you see is a continuationof the negative emotion.You see crying, but you also see some degree of angerand lashing out at that caregiver at the same time.So you'll see the child both clinging to its mother,but also resisting its mother at the same time,

    • 09:02

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: sometimes in an angry way.And so this is why we refer to this as the Anxious AmbivalentChild.It seems to clearly want that closeness,but not feel full security, and that caregiveris not entirely able to soothe its distress.Then there's this third category of attachmentthat's known as of Avoidant Attachment.So this is what we think of as children

    • 09:24

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: who have developed a negative working model of others.Basically, these are children who, through trialafter trial of seeing what happens when it makes itselfvulnerable to a caregiver, has come to the conclusionthat it can't trust the caregiverto provide sensitive care.So what you see in the Strange Situation thenis that when the mother leaves the room,

    • 09:44

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: often the avoidant child is upset.Sometimes it doesn't even look upset at that point.What's really key is what happens whenthe mother returns to the room.So when the mother returns to the room,the avoidant child acts indifferent.It acts as though it doesn't care that its mother hasreturned the room.Now what's curious about that is that some researchers have

    • 10:05

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: tried this Strange Situation, but examinedthese avoidant children at the physiological level,and what you see is that their stress systemsare very much ramped up.So they're very amped up about their mother,but they're trying to put on this air of indifference,which, if there was somebody that you didn't trust,you might try to not make yourself vulnerable to themeither.

    • 10:25

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: So those are the three types of attachments-- SecureAttachment, and then the two typesof Insecure Attachment, one tied to this negative workingmodel of self, called Anxious Ambivalent, the other tiedto this negative working model of other, called Avoidant.

    • 10:45

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: So what we're starting to be able to dois to examine through research what are the kinds of parentingconditions that lead to these moreinsecure styles of attachment?So these studies are tricky to do, because to do them right,what you need to be able to do is examinethese kids in childhood and then track them longitudinally

    • 11:07

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: to see what kinds of attachments styles they develop.So there's not a lot of research that has been done on this,but research by people like Chris Fraley and his colleagueshave started to look at these kinds of data,so that we can get a sense of whatkinds of parenting conditions might beleading to insecure attachment.So for example, one finding suggeststhat a risk factor for developing

    • 11:29

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: an Anxious Ambivalent style of attachmentis having a parent who is depressed.So with Anxious Ambivalent children,you get the sense that they've never quitebeen able to count on their parent to be there for them.This sort of hyper-anxious, hyper-angry attachment stylesuggests that they're having to tugat the proverbial skirt of their mother

    • 11:50

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: all the time to get their attention.They're being made to work extremely hard to get attentionfrom their caregivers.Well you can imagine, if you're depressed parent,you don't have all of your energy to give to your infant,and so that might be conditions under which the children wouldget this message that they have to workthat hard for their parents' attention.

    • 12:12

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: For avoidant children, what this kind of research is suggestingis that one risk factor for developingthese negative working models of othersis having a caregiver who provides insensitive care, who,when you make yourself vulnerable under conditionsof distress, that that caregiver doesn't give youthe kind of care that you need.

    • 12:33

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: And again, you can understand howa child under those circumstances who,when they make themselves vulnerable,are not getting the kind of care that they need, they wouldstart to shut down a bit, that it wouldbe a healthy response under sub-optimal parentingconditions for that child to protect itself.

    • 12:55

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: Let's review what we've learned in this video.Well attachment is a system that'sselected for by evolution.This system motivates infants and caregivers to bond.Basically, the system is what providesthe basis of love between infants and caregivers,but difficulties in that bonding processcan lead to insecure forms of attachment.

    • 13:15

      DR. GEOFF MACDONALD [continued]: For more information about attachment,I'd highly recommend that you reada book called Attachment in Adulthood,by Mikulincer and Shaver.In my lab, we call that book the Bible.[MUSIC PLAYING]

The Development of Attachment

View Segments Segment :


Dr. Geoff MacDonald discusses the development of attachment and different attachment styles. Attachment styles can be secure or insecure, and they develop based on the trust children have in their caregiver. The attachment system is an evolutionary process related to children's need for protection.

SAGE Video Tutorials
The Development of Attachment

Dr. Geoff MacDonald discusses the development of attachment and different attachment styles. Attachment styles can be secure or insecure, and they develop based on the trust children have in their caregiver. The attachment system is an evolutionary process related to children's need for protection.

Back to Top