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How Attachments Develop
Learning Theories of Attachment
Bowlby's Theory of Attachment
Evaluation of Bowlby
Ainsworth's Strange Situation
Cross Cultural Variations
Day Care and Social Development
Implications of Research






Evaluation of Bowlby

Bowlby’s theory has been very influential.  It has been widely studied with some researchers agreeing, some suggesting modifications.  It has been widely applied in practical situations, particularly in hospitals, children’s homes and fostering policy.

Bowlby seems to concentrate on the role of the mother and neglected the father believing the latter to be of little significance.  Later research has shown that the father can play a useful role and lamb (1983) suggests that often children prefer the rough and tumble play they get with the father. 



Similarly Bowlby seemed to overlook the relationships the child develops with its brothers and sisters.  Schaffer (1996) describes these as horizontal relationships as opposed to the vertical relationships with parents, teachers and other adults. 

Research for the internal working model is at best mixed.  Zimmerman et al (2000) assessed attachment style of children ages 12 to 18 months and then in a longitudinal study checked again at the age of 16 years (using interviews to determine the relationship the child had with its parents).  They found that early attachment style was not a good predictor of later relationships and also discovered that life events such as parental divorce had a much greater impact.

A poor early start can be overcome by positive experiences at school and good adult relationships (Rutter & Quinton 1988).

The following study does provide support for the idea of an internal working model but is itself a very poor piece of research:


A brief biography: for background interest only

John Bowlby’s father (Sir Anthony Bowlby) lost his own father at the age of five and spent much of the rest of his life caring for his mother (John’s grandma).  John himself, as was common for wealthy families at the time, was reared by a nanny til the age of four when she left.  According to Bowlby, his mother was cold and reacted to his needs in the very opposite way that you’d expect a mother to react.  At the age of seven, again as was, and still is common, John was sent to boarding school, so again was separated from friends and family.  In the introduction to one of his many books Bowlby quotes Graham Greene;

‘Unhappiness in a child accumulates because he sees no end to the dark tunnel.  The thirteen weeks of a term may just as well be thirteen years.’

It is very clear that his young life was not happy.  He experienced many separations, including his father going off to war when he was seven.

He studied psychology at Cambridge but took time off, spending six months in a school for maladjusted and delinquent children.  He later referred to this as the most important six months of his life.  Whilst there he noticed how many of the children had lost their mothers at a very young age.

He later trained in medicine but didn’t enjoy the experience of medical practice.  In 1939 he raised concerns about the desirability of evacuating young children and separating them from their mothers. 

Unusually for a psychoanalyst (or any other psychologist for that matter) he was keen to incorporate other approaches into his theories.  He was particularly fond of the work of Konrad Lorenz (mentioned earlier) and his ethological work on the evolutionary advantages of attachments.  According to Ainsworth, Bowlby’s theory appeared as a flash of inspiration after he had read Lorenz’s “King Solomon’s Ring.”


Hazan and Shaver (1987): The Love Quiz’ (pronounced lerrrrve obviously)


The researchers asked people to volunteer to take part in the study. 

They were given 2 questionnaires, one to determine their early relationships with parents, the second their later, adult romantic attachments.


They found three basic types of childhood attachment and related these to later adult attachments:

Type of bond

Childhood experience with parent

Adult experience with partner



Close warm relationship with parents and between parents

Secure, stable and loving relationship with partner



Mother was cold and rejecting


Fear of intimacy, emotional highs and lows, jealousy


Anxious ambivalent

Father was perceived as unfair


Obsessive, jealous and emotional highs and lows



Early attachments do affect later, romantic attachments.

Evaluation of the Love Quiz

As I said a poor piece of research because of the following reasons:

Self selecting sample:  the participants volunteered after reading an advert in the Rocky Mountain News.  This is a poor way of selecting participants since you are not getting a cross section of the public.  Using this sampling technique, for example, you are going to get people with an ‘axe to grind’ or with extremes of experience or opinion.

Questionnaire:  People tend not to answer truthfully, particularly on issues of relationships, instead wanting to make themselves look good.

Retrospective:  As we saw in memory our recollection of past events is not reliable, so it seems unlikely that people’s memory of their childhood experiences will be accurate

Cause and effect:  The researchers have shown a relationship between early attachments and later ones and are assuming that the childhood experience has caused the adult experience.  However, other factors could be involved.  Kagan (1984) suggested the temperament hypothesis.  Children with a pleasant disposition are more likely to form warm relationships with parents and later in life, assuming they maintain their ‘niceness’, will form more loving relationships

Note: from a practical point of view, poor research like this is good when it comes to writing essays or discussing points.  You can explain why the study offers support for Bowlby’s IWM but then criticise it using one or more of the points above and then importantly suggest that these criticisms question the extent to which it can really be seen as reliable support. Easy AO2 marks!

A better study but with similar findings is McCarthy (1999).  Forty women (aged 25 to 44) who had experienced insecure attachments as children were given various tests (including Hazan and Shavers) to determine the quality of their adult romantic attachments.  Women classed as avoidant as children tended to have less successful romantic attachments whereas those classed as ambivalent were more likely to have problems forming non-romantic friendships. 

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