Evaluation of Bowlby
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.
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.
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).
following study does provide support for the idea of an internal working
model but is itself a very poor piece of research:
for background interest only
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.’
very clear that his young life was not happy. He experienced
many separations, including his father going off to war when 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.
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.”
Shaver (1987): The Love Quiz’
(pronounced lerrrrve obviously)
researchers asked people to volunteer to take part in the study.
given 2 questionnaires, one to determine their early relationships with
parents, the second their later, adult romantic attachments.
three basic types of childhood attachment and related these to later
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
of intimacy, emotional highs and lows, jealousy
Father was perceived as unfair
Obsessive, jealous and emotional highs and lows
attachments do affect later, romantic attachments.
of the Love Quiz
As I said a
poor piece of research because of the following reasons:
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.
People tend not to answer truthfully, particularly on issues of
relationships, instead wanting to make themselves look good.
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
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
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!
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