Many of the concepts used by attachment researchers take terms from ordinary language but ascribe them technical meanings. This has resulted in extensive confusion, hindering the advance of attachment science by obstructing discussions between researchers, and hindering the potential for mutual benefit in dialogue between researchers and practitioners. To help redress the situation, Marije Verhage, Anne Tharner, Robbie Duschinsky, Pasco Fearon, and Samantha Reisz have attempted brief and usable outlines of the technical meanings used by researchers in the table below. We are grateful for feedback from several colleagues within the Society for Emotion and Attachment Studies, including Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg, Lianne Bakkum, Kazuko Behrens and Tommie Forslund, and from several clinical and child welfare practitioners, including Chris Bonnett, Lisa Watson, Laurence Annis, Tonia Kurdi, Liz Ronan and Phoebe Carr. Longer discussion of each of these concepts, and their various interpretation by different research and practice communities, is available in Duschinsky, R. (2020) Cornerstones of Attachment Research, Oxford: Oxford University Press, available for download here: https://bit.ly/2Fg7WeP. Definitions from the developmental attachment tradition are given first, followed by the social psychological tradition; within each table, the entries are in alphabetical order. For feedback and comments on the text, e-mail can be sent to Marije Verhage (email@example.com) The document can be referenced as: Society for Emotion and Attachment Studies (2021) Explanations of attachment theoretical concepts. Version April 2021. https://seasinternational.org/explanations-of-attachment-theoretical-concepts/ Attachment classification/pattern Children Adults Concepts used by social psychologist attachment researchers Suggested reading list Suggested YouTube Videos: Howard Steele- Attachment and Reflective Functioning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYZBUiqC1g0 Alan Sroufe and colleagues – Infant Disorganised Attachment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY7hhVvKGoo&t=8s Alan Sroufe – Attachment Research Over Decades: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgqBelXr1bE Pehr Granqvist – Attachment and Parents with Intellectual Disabilities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zkP8PyvECw Deborah Jacobvitz- Intergenerational Transmission of Attachment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKoptLJbvmU Jeremy Holmes – John Bowlby, Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Se9HZoCUOQ&t=2159s
Explanations of Attachment Theoretical Concepts
Concepts used by developmental attachment researchers
Explanation, as accessible as possible
Adult Attachment Interview
Definitive test of individual differences in adult attachment; assessment of representations of parents or relationships
A semi-structured interview developed by Main and colleagues. The interview comprises 20 questions. These explore the interviewee’s perceived childhood experiences with their parents, experiences of abuse and loss, the effect of those experiences in the formation of their adult personality, and the interviewee’s current relationship with his or her parents.
Main and colleagues discovered that there were patterns to the way interviewees talked about their attachment experiences. These patterns were termed ‘adult’s states of mind with respect to attachment’. They represent an adult’s present-day capacity to think about and communicate attachment-relevant information about the past.
The interview creates conditions that arouse and direct attention towards attachment-related experiences. The language of the interview is analysed for the speaker’s capacity to integrate two kinds of information:episodic information, i.e., specific events and when they happened, such as an accidentsemantic information, i.e., beliefs about the world, such as whether people are generally caring Following the coding manual by Main and colleagues, interviews are transcribed verbatim and scored by certified coders. Several subscales are scored, after which the transcript is classified into one of four Attachment classifications.
If children show angry behaviour towards the parent in any given situation
See Resistant attachment
Instinctive behaviour of children towards their parents; clinging to the parent
Any behaviour can be an attachment behaviour when it is directed towards gaining and maintaining the availability of an attachment figure when the attachment system is active. It is not an ‘instinctual’ pre-set pattern of behaviour. The expression of attachment behaviour can vary between situations and developmental stages. In infancy, common attachment behaviours include smiling, crawling towards the caregiver, reaching and clinging, and directed cries to attract the caregiver’s attention.
Four boxes representing different ‘kinds’ of attachment; ‘good’ or ‘bad’ attachment; ‘more’ or ‘less’ attached
Categories for describing individual differences in patterns of attachment behaviour in a specific relationship based on valid and reliable assessment tools. The most commonly used tool for children between 12 and 24 months is the Strange Situation Procedure (SSP, Ainsworth et al., 1978). The four classifications based on the SSP are: secure, avoidant, resistant/ambivalent, disorganised. All categories that are not secure can be considered as insecure.For adults, the most commonly used (observational, i.e. interview) tool is the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI, George et al., 1985).The four classifications based on the AAI are: autonomous, dismissing, preoccupied, unresolved (for loss and/or abuse).
Disorganized attachment; insecure attachment
Attachment disorder is a rare mental health disorder associated with a history of grossly inadequate and/or unstable care and is unusual even among children who have been removed from their parents by the state. Attachment disorders denote two very specific and rare forms of diagnosable mental disorder identified by the ICD-10 and DSM-5. The ICD-10 terms them ‘reactive’ and ‘disinhibited’, whereas the DSM-5 terms them as being either a ‘reactive’ or a ‘disinhibited’ social engagement disorder. Though both fall under the label of ‘attachment difficulties’ in NICE (2015), a critical difference is that insecure attachment is relationship-specific, whereas attachment disorders are not. Instead, attachment disorders characterize behaviours that persist across caregiving relationships.A child with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) typically shows a persistent lack of attachment behaviour towards any caregivers, even when alarmed, sick or in distress.Disinhibited attachment disorder (DAD) is characterized by strong overfamiliarity towards unacquainted adults, out of keeping with age-appropriate boundaries or cultural norms.
An attachment figure is a familiar person who a child wishes to use as a safe haven when the attachment system is activated. However, this response may be obstructed, for instance in avoidant attachment relationships, or due to separation from the attachment figure.
A state characterising the whole of a child’s relationship with his or her mother; parent-child bonding; a characteristic of the child or of the parent
A relationship between a child and another person, who functions as an attachment figure for the child. As long as a caregiver is sufficiently familiar and the relationship sufficiently stable over time, children will develop an attachment relationship with this caregiver. An attachment relationship may exist even if the attachment figure is rejecting or abusive. The quality of the care provided does not determine whether or not an attachment relationship develops, but rather shapes whether the attachment relationship is secure or insecure. This also means that a child can form multiple attachment relationships with different attachment figures. The security of these attachment relationships is relationship specific (and cannot be transferred).
Stable images held by people about their attachment figures; how adults feel about their childhood experiences; adult attachment to romantic partners
Experiences with different attachment figures are internalized and generalized into expectations of how attachment relationships work. These expectations can be updated with new experiences and are thus not necessarily stable. Expectations about attachment relationships may influence a person’s assumptions about the availability of others at times of need, and through this shape behaviour in social relationships more generally.
Sometimes researchers talk about the Adult Attachment Interview as an assessment of attachment representations. This is a loose use of the term and a bit misleading; really the Adult Attachment Interview coding procedure developed by Main and colleagues assesses state of mind with regards to attachment. A newer way of coding the Adult Attachment Interview, developed by Harriet and Everett Waters, focuses directly on attachment representations. This is called the ‘secure base script’ approach.
The instinctive relationship with a familiar caregiver
The ‘attachment system’ describes the motivation to seek the availability of attachment figures. The attachment system is thought to be ‘activated’ when an individual is distressed, frightened, tired or ill, which may not always be visible in the individual’s behaviour (see avoidant attachment). This motivation has a basis in evolution, and on this basis is especially easy for humans to develop. However, it is misleading to think of attachment as an ‘instinct’, because experiences with the attachment figure shape whether, when and how the system becomes activated and effectively deactivated by seeking contact with the attachment figure.The goal of the attachment system is to achieve and maintain the availability of the attachment figure as a safe haven. In infancy, this goal may be set as achievement of both attentional availability and responsiveness of the caregiver; the degree of availability sought will depend on the extent of the activation of the system. In adulthood, the goal of the attachment system may be set in ways that make use of capacities for communication and cognitive abstraction, for instance thinking about a loved one. Again this will depend on the extent of activation of the system, and even in adulthood a frightening situation or immediate shock may prompt a wish for physical contact with a loved one.
When the goal of the attachment system is achieved, the system is deactivated.
Depending on the caregiving environment, children develop attachment behavioural strategies to monitor and ensure the availability of their caregiver. When attachment figures have been reliably available in providing a safe haven and secure base, the child can approach and/or signal to the attachment figure directly to be comforted when alarmed (secure strategy). The child is flexible in turning attention towards the caregiver or the environment because s/he can trust in the availability of the attachment figure.By contrast, when the caregiving environment is not responsive, children may develop conditional strategies to improve the potential availability of their caregiver as a safe haven:When a child is not confident about the caregiver’s attentional availability, children might develop a strategy of maximizing attention and attachment behaviour towards the attachment figure, together with expressions of frustration (resistant/ambivalent strategy). These behaviours can be anticipated to maintain the caregiver’s attention and, for younger children especially, their physical proximity.
When the caregiver is consistently unresponsive or rejecting towards the child’s attachment signals, the child may develop a strategy of minimizing attachment behaviour and focusing attention away from the attachment figure towards the environment, in order to minimize rejection or the discomfort of unmet expectations. This way, the child can maintain proximity to an attachment figure who might rebuff them if they attempted a direct approach, which would be emotionally painful and might further reduce the availability of the attachment figure (avoidant strategy).
Autonomous attachment state of mind
The continuation of secure attachment in childhood; ‘good’ attachment in adulthood; positive childhood memories
Adults with an autonomous attachment state of mind are characterized by having unobstructed access to detailed memories of their childhood, being able to note both positive and negative aspects of their experiences with attachment figures, and valuing of attachment relationships. When interviewed with the Adult Attachment Interview, they can freely access their memories and collaborate with the interviewer. Having an autonomous attachment state of mind does not mean that adults experienced a positive childhood; it reflects how they look back on their childhood. If they were confronted with adverse experiences, they have managed to resolve their feelings about these experiences.
The mother’s constant presence with her child
When the attachment system is activated, an individual is disposed to seek the accessibility and responsiveness of their attachment figure or attachment figures as a safe haven. When the attachment system is not activated, the individual will monitor potential threats, including the threat of inaccessibility or unresponsiveness, which would prompt the system’s activation.
The form and extent of accessibility and responsiveness that are sought will depend on circumstances. This is part of what makes the concept of ‘availability’ potentially confusing. In Separation (1973, p.234), Bowlby asserted that “only when an attachment figure is both accessible and potentially responsive can he, or she, be said to be truly available.” This means that physical accessibility of the caregiver is not enough; the perception of a caregiver as available as a safe haven depends also on the caregiver’s attentional responsiveness. From later childhood onwards, communication may be used to provide indications of an attachment figure’s accessibility and responsiveness. However under conditions of more severe threat and intense activation of the attachment system, physical proximity may still be sought.
The individual’s sense of the availability of their attachment figure or attachment figures as a safe haven has been termed “felt security” by Sroufe and Waters. This was not intended to imply that positive evaluation of the availability of attachment figures is the only possible source of the feeling of security.
Ainsworth’s attachment classification for infants who physically avoid their mother on reunion; children who are independent
The child’s behaviour in the Strange Situation suggests that attention is being directed towards the environment (minimizing display of attachment behaviour), and away from attachment figures or other attachment-relevant information.
In infancy, this can be seen in the Strange Situation as looking or moving away from the caregiver when the attachment system is activated, with comparatively less proximity seeking and contact maintaining (e.g., clinging) behaviour towards the caregiver, and with not seeking (physical) contact. Thus, this behaviour should not be confused with independent exploration which occurs when the attachment system is not activated. Though the caregiver is not sought directly in the case of avoidant behaviour, it is still regarded as attachment behaviour because it still allows the child to maintain the availability of their caregiver and a degree of proximity.
After infancy, avoidant behaviour may be coded when a child appears to minimise attention to the availability of attachment figures as a safe haven. This is not a rigid stonewalling of the parent, but a pattern of expectations and communication that do not presume that a safe haven is readily available.
If children show avoidant behaviour towards the parent in any given situation; leads to dismissing attachment state of mind
Attachment Classification that is characterized by a relationship-specific behavioural pattern with high levels of avoidance of the caregiver when the attachment system is activated (e.g. in the Strange Situation). In avoidant attachment relationships, children can be distressed even if they do not appear to be (minimizing display of attachment behaviour). Avoidant attachment is thought to reflect a conditional behavioural strategy to achieve or maintain a degree of availability from an attachment figure who has consistently ignored, rejected, or interfered with the child’s attempts to use them as a safe haven and secure base in the past (see also attachment system).
Affectional bonds exist between any people who are special to one another and who seek to remain in contact. Parent-child bonding is the process by which parents develop an affectionate bond with their child and target their caregiving behaviors towards their child. This is distinct from attachment: in an attachment relationship, the other person is the object of attachment behaviour in times of distress.
The way an individual child responds to their caregiver and, later in development, other adults
The term was drawn by Main from evolutionary biology. There it meant that animals sometimes develop alternative strategies to meet the goal of survival or reproduction in response to challenges in the environment.
Main applied the term to describe avoidant and resistant attachment behaviour. She felt that avoidant and resistant behaviour reflect alterations in the attention given by an individual to their attachment figures. Avoidant attachment represents a minimisation of attention to attachment figures, and as a result a minimisation of attachment behaviour. Resistant attachment represents a maximisation of attention to concerns about the availability of the attachment figure and feelings of frustration. Both conditional strategies tend to be less effective in soothing the child than a secure attachment strategy, but in (caregiving) environments with unavailable or inconsistently available attachment figures, these strategies may have advantages.
Dismissing attachment state of mind
The consequence of childhood neglect; the continuation of avoidant attachment in childhood; avoiding feelings in adulthood
Adults with a dismissing attachment state of mind are characterized by minimizing the importance of their experiences with their attachment figures. They have difficulty accessing their attachment-related memories (e.g., claiming a lack of memories) and often provide an idealized picture of their childhood experiences, while not providing support for this positive stance (e.g., describing the relationship as ‘loving’ but unable to provide specific examples of experiences). During the Adult Attachment Interview, Main and colleagues hold that attention is often directed away from their attachment figures and experiences (episodic information) at the expense of the speaker’s capacity to cooperate with the interviewer in answering their questions.
Attachment disorder; pathology of the child; shown by maltreated children; ‘pathological’ attachment classification
Observable behaviour in the infant or preschool Strange Situation that indicates conflict (expression of different behavioural patterns towards the caregiver, e.g. approach and avoidance), confusion and/or apprehension towards the attachment figure when the child is distressed (and the attachment system is activated). These behaviours in different ways suggest disruption of the attachment behavioural system brought about by a state of “fright without solution” caused by alarming or inexplicable caregiver behaviour in response to child distress. Conflicted, confused, and/or apprehensive behaviour shown towards the caregiver does not necessarily imply that the child has been maltreated. Alternative explanations for these behaviors may be that the caregiver sometimes showed frightening or frightened behavior towards the child as a result of previous trauma or current psychological distress (e.g. as a result of multiple socio-economic adversities). Repeated or major separations from the parent may also cause disorganized behaviours in children.
Attachment disorder; pathology of the child; the consequence of child maltreatment; chaotic, random or inexplicable behaviour of the child in any given situation; extends to unresolved/disorganised attachment state of mind in adulthood; weak attachment or lack of attachment
An Attachment Classification coded on the basis of relationship-specific behaviour that appears disoriented, conflicted or apprehensive with regard to a caregiver when the attachment system is activated (e.g. in the Strange Situation). It is inferred from such behaviour that there has been some degree of systematic disruption in the functioning of the attachment system, in that the child is not able to coherently direct their attention to their caregiver (as in security or resistance) or to the environment (as in avoidance).
Effects of early experience
The notion that early social experience can be expected at an individual level to strongly determine later emotional and social experience
Synthesised findings from many studies (through meta-analysis) show that early care does have effects on later socioemotional development at a population level. However, early experience does not determine later outcomes at an individual level. There are other important factors that play a role in children’s development as well.
Internal working model
Representations of caregivers, which become generalised to all relationships with development
A synonym for internal working model is “expectations”. It is thought that based on their experiences in an early attachment relationship, children develop expectations (or internal working models) about the future behaviour of their attachment figure. Although many attachment researchers still refer to the AAI as measuring internal working models of attachment, this term has been abandoned for this use by Main and colleagues, the originators of the Adult Attachment Interview.
Social psychologists use the term internal working models differently than developmental psychologists. Social psychologists tend to mean the symbolic and affective representationsmade by humans about attachment figures and their availability, and the value of the self to these attachment figures. This is a narrower meaning than the use of the term by developmental psychologists.
Occasions when the child and parent are not together
What makes a separation ‘major’ is that the child is alarmed by the absence of their attachment figure. This alarm continues for long enough that the child appears to give up searching for, calling, or expecting the parent to return. The result is that even when reunited with their caregiver, the child is not able to use them – at least for a time – to regulate distress. Thus, the attachment system becomes unresponsive for an extended period.An example of a major separation is immigrant families being separated at the US border in 2017.
A child cannot be attached to multiple caregivers
In his early writings Bowlby sometimes made claims that suggested a child should always be cared for by their mother. However, he subsequently regretted these claims. In his mature writing, Bowlby saw value in a child having access to multiple secure bases and safe havens, and did not think that one attachment would be at the expense of another. However, reflecting on the case of infants in institutional care, he felt that the number of caregivers should not be so large and contact so fleeting that the child was unable to develop the cherished, individualised relationship necessary for using the caregiver as a secure base and safe haven. Studies on children in institutional care have supported this claim by showing an overrepresentation of attachment insecurity, attachment disorganisation, and attachment disorders in these children. Repeated short-term foster care placements pose the same risks of not developing attachment relationships.
Preoccupied attachment state of mind
The consequence of childhood clinginess; the continuation of resistant attachment in childhood; angry feelings in adulthood
A preoccupied attachment state of mind is characterized by an ongoing involvement or preoccupation with childhood experiences and attachment figures. During the Adult Attachment Interview, attention is often directed towards their dissatisfaction with their attachment figures and experiences (e.g. angry focus on negative episodic information) at the expense of their cooperation with the interviewer in staying on track in answering their questions directly and succinctly (i.e., by adding irrelevant information and vague responses).
The ability to reflect on oneself
The capacity of an individual to register and consider i) their own thoughts and feelings about attachment and caregiving relationships; ii) the thoughts and feelings of others in attachment and caregiving relationships. This is conventionally measured using the Reflective Functioning scale developed for the Adult Attachment Interview.
The term ‘mentalisation’ is sometimes used to characterise the broader capacity to consider thoughts and feelings, whether or not these occur in attachment or caregiving relationships.
Ainsworth’s attachment classification for infants who show anger towards their mother on reunion.
Observable attachment behaviour by a child that is characterized by a maximisation of attention to concerns and frustrations about the availability of attachment figures as a safe haven.
In infancy, this can be seen in the Strange Situation as ambivalent behaviour towards the attachment figure, indicating a desire to be comforted while simultaneously resisting comfort when the attachment system is activated. This can include behaviours such as pushing away, hitting, squirming to be put down after asking to be picked up. Although the mood is usually angry and can include pouting petulance and cranky fussing, resistance should not be confused with normal toddler temper tantrum that does not occur in the context of wanting contact.
After infancy, resistant behaviour may be coded when a child appears to maximise attention to concerns about the availability of attachment figures. This is not punitive or aggressive behaviour towards the caregiver, but a pattern of expectations and communication that pay intense attention to any cues that the caregiver may not be available as a safe haven.
If children show angry behaviour towards the parent in any given situation; leads to preoccupied attachment state of mind; separation anxiety
An Attachment Classification characterized by a relationship specific behavioural pattern with high levels of resistance of the caregiver when the child is distressed (and the attachment system is activated, e.g. in the Strange Situation). Resistant attachment is thought to reflect a conditional behavioural strategy to achieve or maintain the availability of an inconsistently available attachment figure (see also attachment system).
Someone who (or something that) provides comfort and protection in times of potential alarm or distress (i.e. when the attachment system is activated). The attachment system prompts individuals to turn to an attachment figure or attachment figures as a safe haven when alarmed, though this may or not be reflected in the individual’s observable behaviour (e.g. avoidant attachment)
‘Good’ attachment; characteristic of the child; leads to healthy development; leads to autonomous attachment state of mind
Attachment Classification which is a relationship-specific behavioural pattern characterized by the capacity to readily use the caregiver as a safe haven when alarmed and to accept and make use of comfort, and to use the caregiver as a secure base when the attachment system is not activated.
In the infant Strange Situation it is coded on the basis of relatively high levels of proximity seeking (and often also contact maintaining behaviour) towards the caregiver when the attachment system is activated, e.g. in the Strange Situation), combined with relatively low avoidance and resistance towards the caregiver. In older children, direct proximity-seeking becomes relatively less important for security, except when a child is scared; under more ordinary stressful circumstances, of greater importance in revealing security are expectations about the caregiver’s availability as a safe haven and secure base revealed through child-parent communication or the child’s stories or play.
Someone who supports exploration when the attachment system is not activated, i.e. the child can explore the environment when s/he is confident that their attachment figure is available to provide support when needed.
Personal wellbeing and confidence; good relationship/bonding with parents, ‘felt security’ (see Availability)
A characteristic of the caregiver-child attachment relationship, the confidence children have in their ability to use their caregivers as a source of comfort when alarmed, and a base from which to explore when calm. For secure attachment as the category label for a group of infants in the Strange Situation Procedure, see “Secure attachment”.
Warmth and tenderness; personality characteristic, sensibility
As defined by Ainsworth, the ability of a caregiver to i) perceive and to ii) interpret accurately the signals and communications implicit in an infant’s behaviour, and given this understanding, to iii) respond to them appropriately and iv) promptly. Ainsworth developed a scale for assessing caregiver sensitivity. Various other measures of sensitivity have subsequently been developed by attachment researchers. Not all of them measure sensitivity as technically defined by Ainsworth.
State of mind with respect to attachment
Mental representation of attachment; internal working models; attachment styles; the attachment relationship of adult with their parents
This is the standard term for ‘what the Adult Attachment Interview measures’. State of mind with respect to attachment refers to the manner in which a person is able to attend to and communicate about attachment-related experiences. Main et al.’s study of responses to the Adult Attachment Interview prompts showed that there are patterns in the manner of answering, ranging from directing attention away from these attachment-related events and feelings (e.g., by idealising the situation and limit recall to abstract memories) to direction attention towards towards attachment-related events and feelings (e.g., by vividly recollecting their past and present relationships, to a point where they lost track of the question). In the Adult Attachment Interview, four classifications of state of mind with respect to attachment are given to these speech patterns, see Attachment Classifications. Parents’ state of mind with respect to attachment has been consistently linked to the quality of their children’s attachment relationship with them.
Strange Situation Procedure
Definitive test of individual differences in attachment
A structured laboratory-based observational procedure developed by Ainsworth and colleagues. By exposing the child to a mildly stressful situation through a strange environment, an unfamiliar person, and brief separations from the caregiver, the attachment system is activated and attachment behaviour can be observed. The pattern of displayed behaviours by the child upon reunion with the caregiver provides a window into the behavioural strategy to deactivate the attachment system. A classification for the attachment quality can be assigned accordingly. The SSP is valid for children aged 12-24 months, for instruments assessing attachment quality in older children, we refer to Handbook of Attachment. For a description of the four attachment classifications based on the Strange Situation, see “Attachment classifications”.
Unresolved attachment state of mind
Feeling sad over a loss of an attachment figure; missing a deceased attachment figure; consequence of disorganised attachment; psychopathology; childhood trauma
An unresolved attachment state of mind occurs when an adult has experienced a significant loss or traumatic abuse experience (usually of/by an attachment figure) and has not processed this event well. When the event is discussed, the discourse becomes confused, contradicting, or displays lapses in reasoning about the event (e.g., self-blame); the adult cannot think about the event in a structured and concise manner.
Insecure attachment relationship
A set of schemas about close relationships entailing concern about abandonment, intense desire for reassurance from others, and distress and frustration about the perceived unavailability of others.
Insecure attachment relationship
A set of schemas about close relationships entailing discomfort with closeness or reliance on others.
An adult’s characteristic form of attachment; the same thing measured by the Adult Attachment Interview
The term ‘attachment style’ was used by social psychologists to characterise an adult’s self-reported attitude towards close relationships. Even though the same labels of ‘secure, avoidant, and ambivalent/resistant’ are assigned as an analogy with the Ainsworth categories, self-report measures are generally held to assess schemas regarding the availability of others in close relationships, not state of mind with respect to attachment or the quality of the attachment relationship. Associations between attachment styles and states of mind regarding attachment are generally weak.
Fearful attachment (sometimes termed ‘fearful-avoidant attachment)
Equivalent to disorganised attachment as used by developmental attachment researchers
In the work of Bartholomew, fearful attachment occurs when individuals are afraid of rejection by attachment figures and also have a negative model of their own worthiness.
However, following the work of Brennan, Clark and Shaver, fearful attachment has generally been re-envisioned as the co-occurrenceof anxiety and avoidance.
There is no evidence of empirical associations between fearful attachment in self-report measures and disorganised or unresolved attachment as measured by developmental attachment researchers; they are distinct constructs.
Many of the concepts used by attachment researchers take terms from ordinary language but ascribe them technical meanings. This has resulted in extensive confusion, hindering the advance of attachment science by obstructing discussions between researchers, and hindering the potential for mutual benefit in dialogue between researchers and practitioners. To help redress the situation, Marije Verhage, Anne Tharner, Robbie Duschinsky, Pasco Fearon, and Samantha Reisz have attempted brief and usable outlines of the technical meanings used by researchers in the table below. We are grateful for feedback from several colleagues within the Society for Emotion and Attachment Studies, including Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg, Lianne Bakkum, Kazuko Behrens and Tommie Forslund, and from several clinical and child welfare practitioners, including Chris Bonnett, Lisa Watson, Laurence Annis, Tonia Kurdi, Liz Ronan and Phoebe Carr. Longer discussion of each of these concepts, and their various interpretation by different research and practice communities, is available in Duschinsky, R. (2020) Cornerstones of Attachment Research, Oxford: Oxford University Press, available for download here: https://bit.ly/2Fg7WeP.
Definitions from the developmental attachment tradition are given first, followed by the social psychological tradition; within each table, the entries are in alphabetical order.
For feedback and comments on the text, e-mail can be sent to Marije Verhage (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The document can be referenced as:
Society for Emotion and Attachment Studies (2021) Explanations of attachment theoretical concepts. Version April 2021. https://seasinternational.org/explanations-of-attachment-theoretical-concepts/
Concepts used by social psychologist attachment researchers
Suggested reading list
Suggested YouTube Videos:
Howard Steele- Attachment and Reflective Functioning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYZBUiqC1g0
Alan Sroufe and colleagues – Infant Disorganised Attachment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY7hhVvKGoo&t=8s
Alan Sroufe – Attachment Research Over Decades: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgqBelXr1bE
Pehr Granqvist – Attachment and Parents with Intellectual Disabilities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zkP8PyvECw
Deborah Jacobvitz- Intergenerational Transmission of Attachment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKoptLJbvmU
Jeremy Holmes – John Bowlby, Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Se9HZoCUOQ&t=2159s