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 An Outline of the Theory of Attachment

Juan Carlos Garelli

Bowlby's Attachment Theory advances a multidisciplinary stance in which psychoanalysis is integrated with ethology and sociobiology, psychobiology, the cybernetic theory of control systems and modern structural approach to cognitive development. In spite of the fact that the integration of these disciplines was first undertaken in order to understand the origin, function and development of the child's early socio-emotional relations, Bowlby's Theory of Attachment is in actual fact deeply embedded in a general theory of behaviour which is an outgrowth of these manifold origins.

The concept of attachment as conceived by Bowlby differs deeply from other theoretical approaches in a number of important respects. For instance, attachment behaviour is seen as belonging to a behavioural system (Bowlby (1969-1982): A & L, vol. 1: Attachment) and not in terms of a particular discrete behaviour. The expression "behavioural system" has been borrowed by Bowlby from the ethologists who use it instead of the term 'instinct', insofar as this term is viewed as nonexplanatory and furthermore leading to simplistic theorization.

The term "behavioural system" stands for the underlying organizational structure mediating a variety of observable discrete behaviours. Even though this underlying structure is thought to be neuroendocrine in nature, no claim is forwarded as to extant isomorphic mechanisms within the CNS with the proposed behavioural systems. The hypothesis Bowlby advances is akin to a software programme whereby computerized application performs certain tasks withouth tight references to the kind of circuitry the computer is equipped with.

Behavioural systems are assisted by feedback mechanisms allowing the individual to correct the ongoing behaviour which may show certain degrees of discrepancy with the behaviour which is necessary to attain the desired goal.

The attachment behavioural system in human infants is mediated by discrete observable behaviours: smiling, crying, following, approaching, clinging, etc. Each and every behaviour has the predictable outcome of increasing proximity with the caregiver.

Pride of place is given in Bowlby's Theory of Attachment to the biological function of behaviour (Bowlby, A & L, vols 1-3). According to contemporary evolutionary thinking, structures and behavioural systems are now present in the population because they contributed to the reproductive success of the bearers in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (which is the environment in which the species emerged). What is then the biological function of attachment, that which gives survival advantage to the individuals genetically biased to seek and keep proximity between infant and caregiver?: protection of the infant from harm.

Under certain ecological conditions, Natural Selection favours individuals who invest heavily on childcare and upbringing. These parents protect (they actually protect their own genes) their offspring from predatory and parasitic animals. During evolutionary time, strong selection pressures have led individuals to discriminate between their own and other young (Bateson, PPG, 1979, "How do sensitive periods arise and what are they for?", Animal Behaviour, 27, 470-86). Filial imprinting is a phenomenon whereby the young quickly learn to recognize their parents thereby following them everywhere, keeping proximity to them and avoiding contact with any other but close kin. The young need to discriminate between the parent that cares for them and other member of their species because parents discriminate between their own offspring and other young of the same species and may actually attack young which are not their own.

Both selective pressures, protection from predation and filial imprinting contribute in important ways to the formation and strengthening of attachment bonds, serving the purpose of obtaining and maintaining an optimal proximity between young and parents.

In a paper entitled "The Nature of the Child's Tie to his Mother" (1958, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-73) Bowlby proposes that the infant's bond with his mother is mediated by just such species-characteristic behaviour patterns and not by the mother's role in feeding or otherwise satisfying the infant's biological needs. Thus attachment behaviour is held to be a kind of social behaviour tantamount to that of mating or parental behaviour and is deemed to have a function specific to itself.

A human infant's attachment behavioural system becomes apparent through discrete observable such as smiling and crying, which are deemed to possess a signalling function that serves to activate maternal behaviour and bring the adult into proximity to the child. Rooting, grasping, sucking, following, approaching, clinging are behaviours whereby the infant plays an active role in seeking proximity and contact. As from birth these behaviours become coordinated and focused on the mother (or attachment figure) to form the basis of attachment. In any case, the infant becomes attached to the caregiver with whom he has had more interaction, generally his mother. As the infant develops, he becomes increasingly effective in seeking and maintaining proximity to his preferred figure.

When the child achieves locomotion a new behavioural system becomes activated, that of exploratory behaviour. Exploration of the environment is antithetical to attachment. It is of the utmost importance to focus the relationship of the infant to his mother as keeping a balance in the interplay between both systems.

One of the most important functions of the attachment behavioural system is to intervene in the baby's excursions into the environment, in responso to a variety of potentially dangerous events, thereby deactivating the exploratory system and activating the attachment system thus seeking proximity to his mother.

Several studies show that children approach their caregivers not only in response to dangerous external stimuli but also they do so to check the availability and attentiveness of the caregiver, in a sort of permanent monitoring activity. After such checking the child wanders off to play again; after a while he returns again, and so on. This kind of behavioural pattern is referred to in the literature as the baby using his mother as a Secure Base (Ainsworth, 1978, Patterns of Attachment).

Affectional bonds are formed as a result of interactions with the attachment figure, that is to say, between child and parent. Emotional life is seen as dependent on the formation, maintenance, disruption or renewal of attachment relationships. Consequently, the psychology and psychopathology of emotion is deemed to be largely the psychology and psychopathology of affectional bonds.

Psychopathology is regarded as due to a person having suffered or still be suffering the consequences of disturbed patterns of attachment, leading the person to have followed a deviant pathway of development. Infancy, chilhood and adolescence are seen as sensitive periods during which attachment behaviour develops -normally or deviously- according to the experience the individual has with his attachment figures.

Finally, loss or threat of loss of the attachment figure is seen as the principal pathogenic agent in the development of psychopathology.


A Brief Outline of Developmental Biology


The process that determines the evolutionary history of a species is Natural Selection. This is the differential reproductive success of individuals within a population that occurs because of hereditary differences among them.

It was Charles Darwin's genius to recognize that if some members of a group of animals have more progeny, because of their inherited makeup, than other members, then evolutionary change will take place (Darwin: The Origin of Species 1859).

Darwin developed the theory of natural selection at a time when the concept of gene as the unit of heredity was unknown to him. That is why he had to deal with rather abstract principles.

He actually founded his theory on 3 principles:

1. The Principle of VARIETY: individuals of the same species vary in their ability to leave more reproductive offspring.

2. The Principle of HEREDITY, whereby progeny resemble direct ancestors more than any other member of the population.

3. The Principle of NATURAL SELECTION whereby individuals that differ in certain traits also differ in their ability to leave reproductive descendants.

We are now in a better position to reformulate the key observations and deductions of Darwin in modern genetic terms. This will enable us to understand the evidence and logic underlying an evolutionary approach to animal behaviour.

All organisms have genes; all living things have within them nucleic acids that contain in coded form information about protein synthesis. Among other things, this information regulates the development of the individual.

Within a species, many genes are present in 2 or more alternative forms or alleles. Different alleles code for slightly different forms of the same protein and thereby provide somewhat different influenceson the development of individuals. This contributes to variation in the characteristics of the members of a species.

Populations are limited in size. No population can grow forever. Most populations fluctuate in a fairly narrow range about an average number.

The number of copies of each gene in a population is therefore limited. Consequently, it follows that there will be competition between alleles of a gene to occupy the limited number of spaces in a gene pool. If one allele over a period of time consistently makes more surviving copies of itself than another, it will eventually replace the alternative form within the population. This is Natural Selection

Furthermore, the living members of any modern species have within them alleles that have generally been successful at copying themselves and passing from generation to generation; that is, these alleles have been "selected for".

Because the development of traits is regulated genetically, we should expect that the characteristics of organisms will tend to help an individual's genes survive.

The logic of natural selection requires that over time animals will evolve behavioural adaptations that promote the survival of genes that underlie advantageous traits. Genes in individuals that are reproductive failures will tend to be eliminated. Genes with the capacity to steer development along lines that produce reproductively successful individuals should tend to survive -that is the case of attachment behaviour.

All the evolved characteristics of an individual, be they developmental mechanisms, physiological systems or behavioural capabilities should be related to the survival of the genes within the individual. Seen in this light, life is essentially an unconscious contest among different alleles to survive and replace alternative forms. E.O.Wilson has vividly expressed this view with his epigram:

"An organism is DNA's way of making more DNA".

Genes may survive indefinitely, whereas individuals do not; they are merely "survival machines" (to use Dawkins' metaphor: "The Selfish Gene",1976), produced by a set of genes for the welfare of those genes.

An evolutionary approach to behaviour - as that adopted by Bowlby's theory of attachment - rests on the concept of natural selection. And natural selection operates on the species' environment of evolutionary adaptedness: in the case of homo sapiens, the environment in which the species emerged: long before the agricultural revolution, about 10,000 years ago, probably about a million years ago. (During the Peistocene)

Because genes have been selected for their ability to survive, an evolutionary approach predicts that all the evolved characteristics of an animal should tend to promote the survival of the genes that underlie these characters.

Therefore, the fundamental evolutionary question about behavioural traits is: how might a behavioural action help maximize the individual's fitness? This inquiry is crucial for the understanding of attachment behaviour and some of its pathological outcomes.

Animal behaviour is the outcome of a complex developmental process that is regulated by the genes. The connection between the genes and behaviour is an indirect one, with many intervening steps between chromosomes and behavioural responses.

Genes regulate enzyme production, which in turn controls the development of the physiological mechanisms necessary for behaviour.

Although a full understanding of these events is still in its infancy, there is an incresing body of knowledge about the links between genes, neurophysiology, behaviour, and the environment.



As I stated in the preface, the term 'behavioural system' stands for the underlying organizational structure mediating a variety of observable discrete behaviours and is thought of a sort of software programme performed by a computer without tight references to the kind of circuitry the hardware is equipped with.

Behavioural systems have evolved to provide animals with the ability to perform special behaviour patterns in response to key stimuli. More important, behavioural systems structure the use of the animal's entire repertoire of behavioural abilities in an adaptive manner.

A crucial problem for an animal is how to deploy its behaviour patterns at the optimal time. Major categories of behaviour seem to be organized by one or more motivational systems. These mechanisms monitor the internal environment of the animal (detecting, for instance, hunger, fear, alarm, and so on) and command the animal to become responsive to certain stimuli (food, sight of the caregiver) at the appropiate time.

The mechanisms responsible for the temporal regulation of behaviour patterns interact with each other in such a way that the individual never tries to do more than one thing at a time. Instead, an animal carries out an action in a complete form without interference from other competing behaviours. There is a hierarchical pattern of priorities among control units. Typically, for example, Attachment Behaviour takes precedence over all other possible actions when escape from danger is necessary, with neural activity in the escape system suppressing activity in other centres.

The nature of the inhibitory relations between behavioural systems may change in response to changing internal states. These may involve short-term changes in priority as, for instance, in the case of a recently assuaged baby in whom crying behaviour may no longer have precedence over playful behaviour. Or the changes in CNS interaction may follow a long-term period, as is the case of the onset of attachment, fear of strangers or fearful behaviour generally.

Behavioural systems are activated, regulated and deactivated according to varying circumstances; they can be understood as complete motivational systems, only deprived of the teleology implied in terms as motivation. Those interested in a more complete account of motivational systems, please let me know, as a description of these would take quite a while. For the time being, suffice it to say that motivational analysis can be formulated without resorting to terms like 'drive', 'tendency' or even 'motivation'.


Imprinting is the process or set of processes by which various kinds of preferences can be determined by experience (Bateson, 1979). Learning is involved in such processes and we say that learning is genetically programmed so that the animals are able to learn in specific sensitive periods and possess specific learning capacities at this time (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1970). For instance, in filial inprinting the young of several species learn to recognize their close kin, especially thir mothers and follow them everywhere. In birds, for instance, filial imprinting occurs several hours after hatching and from that moment onwards the chick forms an attachment relationship to its mother: it follows her everywhere, resorts to her for help ans as haven of security in case of danger.

Imprinting involves a narrowing of preexisting preferences, therefore doing away with indiscrimination and sharply discriminating among individuals (filial imprinting), habitat preferences, feeding preferences and sexual choice (sexual imprinting) and readily becoming attached to them. This process backs the conviction that experience can exert a greater influence at some times of life than at others.

In the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (i.e., the natural world) imprinting does not only reduce the number of individuals that are likely to be approached by the infant; it biases the infant towards whom it escapes in times of danger, towards whom it will seek proximity and food, and so on.


Both filial and sexual imprinting have evolved to enable the individual to recognize its close kin. In most cases, the parent that cares exclusively for its own young will be more likely to rear them to puberty than a parent that accepts and cares for all the stray young that come up to it. That is to say, the phenotypic character of caring for young with all its accompanying advantages is more like ly to be transmitted from one generation to the nextr by genetic means if the behaviour is directed to close kin.

It is of the utmost importance to realize that imprinting researchers have come to the conclusion that filial imprinting is necessary for INDIVIDUAL RECOGNITION OF PARENTS and is a secondary consequence of the selective pressures on parents to discriminate between their own and other young (Bateson, 1979).

Both selective pressures, protection of the infant from predation and filial imprinting contribute in important ways to the formation and strengthening of attachment bonds, serving the purpose of obtaining and maintaining an optimal proximity between young and parents.



Many animal species have evolved behavioural systems that lead the individuals of such species to behave cooperatively. Social communities are so widespread in nature that a taxonomic classification proves almost impossible: it ranges from species to families to phyla; e.g., invertebrates like ants or bees to vertebrates such as fish, birds and mammals. Such striking deployment of social organization calls for an evolutionary explanation. Genes that favoured cooperative behaviour, reciprocity and communication, protection and care towards other members of the species - generally close kin- have been selected for (Wilson 1975).

One of the most important evolutionary movers to cause socialization is defence against predation. Let us remember that natural selection favours individuals whose progeny reaches reproductivre age. Therefore, in order to avoid extinction, it is necessary to protect the young. The ability to avoid early death in a population represents the degree of differential mortality among the species. A major component of natural selection is high pre-reproductive mortality. In all species -with the exception of recent human history- more individuals die in each generation than survive to reproductive age. Darwin realized that high reproductive mortality was a necessity, a logical necessity. It followed from a single fact regarding nature, that is, that over long periods of time, the amount of living material on the earth does not increase, or increases very slowly. This means that for a typical species, numbers must remain relatively constant from generation to generation. Otherwise, the total biomass of living creatures would increase year after year. Once we assume that numbers remain relatively constant, then it is easy to calculate how many individuals in each generation die before reproduction.

Human beings probably have the slowest natural rate of increase of any living creature, and we know that until the discovery of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, human numbers increased very slowly (Leakey 1981). If a woman who survives through adulthood has about 6 children, then we know -for numbers to have stayed constant- that 4 of these 6 must have perished. We know from studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer cultures that about 20% of the children born perish in the first year of life (Trivers 1985, Garelli 1984). Darwin saw clearly that the tremendous reproductive potential of all creatures must result in intense competition to survive, a competition that would result in non-random differential mortality. Those creatures who happen to be born with characteristics that make it easier to survive will endure while others will fall the wayside. Now what could be a deterrent to non-random mortality, that is, what could reduce the exposure to predatory animals, especially among younger member of species? Grouping as in bird flocks or fish schools, socialization, cooperation, parental care and attachment.

I had asked: what could be a deterrent to non-random mortality?, to which I now add, what could reduce the exposure to predatory animals, especially among the young members of the species? Rudebeck (1950) suggested that group size may be a deterrent to mortality from predators. Any individuals with a genetic tendency to live around other animals may suffer lower predation and thereby leave more surviving offspring. There is reason to believe that this explanation applies very widely in nature, and there is clear evidence that the primary selective force causing creatures to gather in groups is predation pressure.

For example, when a goshawk is released at a standard distance from flocks of wood pigeons, its predatory success falls steadily as flock size increases, apparently because the hawk is detected more quickly. From each individual pigeon's standpoint the gain in survival is striking. from one in 5 chances of surviving when alone to a 99.8 % chance when in a group of 50.

Tinbergen (1951) has pointed out that starlings fly tighly close to one another when they see a peregrine falcon hovering overhead. It is dangerous for the falcon to dive against such tight squad because it risks crashing against the starlings with its fragile body and drop dead. What falcons do to avoid the trap is to practice a number of sham dives very close to the flock. A rapid succession of such sham dives disorganizes the flock and several birds fly astray by inferior manouvering, and now it is the falcon's time to carry through a real swoop and intercept its prey with its talons.

Fish schools have the structure and function to avoid predation. Schooling serves to reduce the risk of being eaten. The probability of detection by a predator is reduced by forming a school. Because of the scattering and absorption of light in the ocean, the greatest distance from which an object of any size can be seen is roughly 200 metres. If fish are isolated from one another, the chance of a predator's finding at least one of them is very great. Conversely if fish are grouped, the predator's probability of detection decreases proportionally to the number of fish grouped. Besides, schools perform coordinated defense movements on being attacked by a predator. (Partridge, 1982).

The benefits of social grouping go far beyond defense against predators. The very same resources that are employed to defend from powerful enemies are just as good to fight competitors thus increasing reproductive success. Besides, socialization favours learning and thereby the develoment of CNS. Search for food, the building of nests or shelters, the penetration of new territories, the altering of the environment are some of the benefits that are obtained through cooperation.

Both defense against predation and against strangers are hallmarks in the special care these (social) species show towards their progeny: they do not only strive to rear them properly but also defend them against dangers emanating from the environment, namely the ecological pressure represented in nature by predators and strangers. (By the way, here is an ethological hint underlying Ainsworth's Strange Situation: activation and deactivation of the Attachment Behavioural System).



Parental care is deemed complementary to attachment. It results from the parent's evolved behavioural system to behave in such a way as to respond to the offspring's attachment behaviour. Of necessity, both systems, parental care and attachment have evolved simultaneously thus giving the individuals endowed with those genes a survival advantage. Otherwise, no survival edge could have ensued.

Suppose an adult individual deploys parental care to a detached offspring, who is constantly straying and is eventually lost, thus losing representation in the next generation. Parents that produce detached offspring would have no survival edge and would eventually become EXTINCT.

Conversely, if the offspring is born with a bias to attachment but is rejected by the parent, it becomes easy prey for predators and strangers. Rejecting parents have then the same fate as detached offspring: Natural Selection will ELIMINATE them.

When species adapt to stable, predictable environments (such as a savannah as opposed to, say, the open sea), natural selection favours a slow population growth with the following series of demographic consequences that enhance the evolution of parental care: the individuals will tend to live longer, grow larger and reproduce at intervals, instead of a single burst. Furthermore, if the habitat is structured (as in the case of the savannah), the animal will tend to occupy particular places: a home range or territory or at least return to peculiar places for feeding and refuge.

Each of these traits is best served by the production of a relatively small number of offspring whose survival is improved by special attention during early development.

The activity of predators can prolong parental care -sometimes well into puberty or even early adulthood- so as to protect the lives of the offspring.

Finally, filial imprinting, as a derived process of offspring recognition, plays a major role in the highlighting of parental care. (For further details, see previous section on Imprinting and also Bateson, 1979 and 1981).


Traditionally, innate behaviour was said to be genetically determined. In other words, genetic information was thought to be required for the development of instincts but not for learned behaviour. This division is an example of the hoary nature versus nurture controversy in which traits were felt to be caused either by hereditary factors (nature) or by experiencial factors (nurture).

An either/or approach is meaningless. A genotype without environmental building blocks (nurture) would remain a genotype and nothing more. Environmentally supplied materials, in the absence of genetic information (nature) to organize their use in development would remain an unorganized collection of mollecules. The development of every aspect of an individual -its appearance, its physiological mechanisms, its behaviour, its everything- is the product of an interaction between hereditary information and the environment that provides the substances for development (Hinde, 1974).

The function of a behavioural adaptation is to contribute to the gene-copying success of an individual. There are many obstacles in an animal's environment (predation, competitors, strangers, etc.) that stand in the way of gene survival. An evolutionary approach suggests that behavioural traits should help individuals overcome these obstacles.

I intend further to elaborate on the issue of irrationalism versus rationalism because of its crucial role in the understanding of the difference between the epistemological status of Bowlby's Theory of Attachment and other approaches, either before or after Bowlby's scientific output.

I deem Bowlby's approach the first to take socio-emotional issues seriously; which is totally in keeping with the rationalist attitude to take arguments seriously.

For this is the fundamental difference between the two views: for irrationalism will use reason too, without any feeling of obligation and thus will use it or discard it as it pleases. In other words, the irrationalist uses reason either to amuse himself or to manipulate others. He never feels that reason is above him.

Typically irrationalists will argue that human nature is in the main not rational. Men and women, they hold, are more than mere rational animals, and also less.

Much of the criticism Bowlby's approach has arisen is in exactly the same vein as other rationalists have gathered ever since the Middle Ages! (the opposition between scholasticism and mysticism). If you care to confront Bowlby's statements with Nagel's, you will become aware of the parallelism both lines of arguments share. Bowlby states: "Data drawn from direct observations is currently (1969) regarded as of peripheral concern... it can provide only superficial information in sharp contrast with the direct observation of mental intrap`sychical functioning that obtains during psychoanalytic treatment. (Not that I attack psychoanalysis, I simply see no reason why psychoanalysis must remain static and thereby proto-scientific). Nagel expresses: "To the irrationalists, the rationalists, and especiallly the rational scientist, are the poor in spirit, pursuing soulless and largely mechanical activities, and completely unaware of the deeper problems of human destiny and of its philosophy".

Needless to say, no rational argument will have a rational effect on somebody who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.

Resuming our brief outline of an ethological approach to early social development, I now add:

In non-human primates the early development of social behaviour occurs in interaction with the mother.

As the infant matures he interacts to a considerable extent with his peers, but these interactions are largely controlled by the mother.

Thus it is with mother-infant interacions that the ethologist is first concerned.

Newborn primates, like newly-hatched birds have a repertoire of behavioural patterns which mediate interaction with their social environment, i.e., their mother. These include rooting, grasping, clinging, finding the nipple, gesturing, vocaliztions and other social signs.

Monkeys spend most of thier early months, and apes most of their early years, clinging to their mothers in a ventro-ventral position or riding on their backs, and when moving about most mother give little if any support to their infants. It is thus essential for the infant to be able to cling to his mother as she runs or leaps about.

The infant's ability to cling depends on basic reflex patterns. Sudden movement of the mother produces movements of the arms which serve to bring them into contact with the mother's body. This response is still present in the human baby as the MORO reflex, given on stimulation of the vestibular organs or the muscles of the neck.

In addition to clinging with hans and feet, an infant monkey also holds on to its mother's nipple with its mouth. The NIPPLE thus provides a 5TH POINT OF SUPPORT.

Neonatal gorillas (Fossey, Dianne, 1975) also can cling unaided, though the mother often gives additional support with her arms and thighs. In human newborns remnants of the grasping pattern are still present, thereby the fact that human mothers of many societies normally carry their babies.

The means whereby the baby finds the nipple provides another example of an early movement pattern important for early social development. The young primate, and this includes the human baby, has a rooting reflex. It moves its head from side to side, thereby increasing the probability that the nipple will contact a sensitive area round the mouth which includes the upper and lower lips and parts of the cheeks. If this region is stimulated the head is turned in such a way that the mouth moves towards the point with which contact was made. The nipple is the grasped with the lips and, if the nipple touches the soft palate, sucking is induced.

Sucking has a soothing effect on the baby, even though it obtains no milk thereby and even if it has never previously been fed from breast or bottle.


Harlow (Harlow and Suomi, 1959) provided rhesus monkey infants with surrogate mothers consisting of a wire framework which might or might not be covered in terry cloth, might or might not have a nipple providing milk, might or might no have a head, and so on. One of the most importnat characters turned out to be the terry cloth covering. When rhesus monkey infants were given two artificial mother surrogates of which one was covered with terry cloth and one was not, they spent nearly all their time on the cloth mother even though they could obtain milk only from the wire one. Textural stimuli are not the only ones determining an infant's clinging preferences, though. Mother surrogates that provide milk. are warm, or that rock, are preferred to ones that are milkless, cold or stationary (Harlow and Suomi, 1970). Paralleles with human infants are obvious: they also can be soothed by contact, warmth, or being rocked, as well as by the opportunity to suck.



Pregnancy and birth form the beginning of and on-going interaction between mother and infant which involves intersubjective communication (Stern, 1985) and that evolves with the growing and interrelated perceptual, cognitive and motor capacities of the infant.

The early post-natal development of most non-human primates occurs in an environment formed in large part by the mother's body. Closely attached to her, the infant must become closely acquainted with the tactual, kinaesthetic, auditory, visual, and olfactory stimuli that she provides. To some of these stimuli he responds as soon as he is born. As he develops further, his mother's body is his first toy, and many of his waking hours are spent in its exploration. In addition, the manner in which the mother holds the baby makes it easier for the baby to learn her features. She likes to look into her baby's face, and tries to get the baby to look at her. Being held and rocked may not only soothe a crying baby, but also alert it, and when the infant is at the breast, its mother's face is at about the distance at which it can focus most clearly. (Let us remember infants are myopic at birth and that their visual focal distance is barely 25-30 cms.).

As regards the auditory modality, there is evidence that infants exposed to the sound of the human heartbeat gain weight better than do infants not so exposed: the tendency of parents to carry babies against the left breast rather than the right may be related to this.

One of the most outstanding communication features deployed by mammals in general and humans in particular are distress signals. Human infants cries adopt different patterns: in hunger, it progresses from an arrhythimical low-intensity cry to a louder and rhythmical form; an agry cry, somewhat similar in form but with the components of the sequence differently emphasized; and a pain cry with a sudden onset, a pause, and then a series of gasping cries.



What would happen if Darwin's theory of organic creation were refuted? One of the immediate consequences would be that Bowlby's theory of Attachment would be proven false.

So, what about performing an epistemological exercise whereby we challenge Darwin's theory and contrast it with 3 other rival theories, and see how it fares?

The first great epistemological revolution in biology was undertaken by Lamarck, who advanced the first evolutionary model of organic creation. Before Lamarck the only belief which was held as valid was that of the Bible. There it is asserted that mas was created as man, and each other living species had been created by God just as we can see them today. The Bible (actually the Book of Genesis) certainly denies both parts of the evolutionary hypothesis, transformation of species and the common ancestry of life.

But there is an alternative to the Biblical account, a hypothesis that asserts that species do not change through time, that all species have in the past always looked as they do now; and that species have a separate origin. This is known as the theory of separate creation. Something very loke it was held by the geologist Charles Lyell in the early editions of his work "The Principles of Geology (1830-3)".

We have already stated that evolution means that all modern species have descended from a single common ancestral species; species have thus changed in appearance as they have descended and diversified through time. According to the theory of evolution, life originated only once and species are not immutable. The present diversity of forms has been produced from one ancestor by the splitting of the species.

It could be that species do change, but that life has originated more than once. Species might change into new species without splitting; the single lineage might las indefinitely, without ever going extinct. Lamarck thought that species never go extinct and speculated that species slowly change into more progressive forms through the mechanism of inheritance of acquired characters. (So did Freud, see his "Totem and Taboo"). The history of life would have been independent creations followed by transformations within each lineage. The transformations would have been the result of adaptations to the environment passed onto the next generation by inheritance. This is known as 'transformism'.

We now have, apart from the Biblical account of the origin of the world (creationism), 3 theories of the history of life. They differ in their answers to the questions of whther species are fixed in appearance or can change over generations; and whether there has been a single ancestor of modern species or several. Separate creation states that species do not change and that there were as many origins of species as there have been species. Trnsformism states that species do change, but that t have been several origins of life. Evolution states that species change, and split into more than one species, and that present-day species are the descendants of a single ancestor.

The best evidence for evolution for evolution would be to see it in action. This has been achieved under both natural and artificial conditions (Maynard Smith 1975). A well known case is that of the peppered moth in Great Britain. This moth exists in two main forms, a dark one and a light one. Before the Industrial Revolution the light form was much the commoner; but throtugh the nineteenth century, in industrial areas, the dark form gradually increased in numbers, to become the commoner form. A comparable degree of evolutionary change has been studied in many other species (Wilson, 1975). In all of them, the appearance of the species has changed through time: they have evolved and been seen to evolve. Similar changes can be produced artificially. A new generation that differs from its predecessor can easily be produced by breeding selectively from certain forms in a population. If one breeds, for example, from only the larger mice of a population, the next generation will have a larger average weight. The evolutionary change can be watched as it takes place. The observation will thus favour the theories of evolution and transformism, but will count against separate creation.

A second argument for evolution comes from taxonomy. Species are classified together if they share certain traits which are called homologies. The era.bones of mammals are an example of an homology. They are homologous woth some of the jaw-bones of reptiles. The ear-bones of mammals did not have to be formed from the same bones as form the jaw of reptiles; but in fact they are. If reptiles and mammals evolved separately, we should not expect to find this similarity. But if mammals evolved from reptiles, we should expect to find otherwise unintelliglible similarities. Clearly the ear-bones evolved from the jaw-bone. THe fact that species share homologies is an argument for evolution, for if they had been created separately, there would be no reason why they should show homologous similarities.

The sheer number of homologous similarities among species kakes a powerful argument for evolution: a giraffe's neck has the same number of vertebrae as the neck of a mouse; a penguin's wing has the same joint structure as a knagaroo's front paw. Take the famous case of the Galapagos finches (Maynard Smith, 1975). There are, on the different islands of htat archipelago, 14 different species of finch. The 14 species fill many of the roles we should expect -on another continent- to be played by other, unrelated birds. One of them, for instance, is a woodpecker finch. It has evolved a long woodpecker-beak but not a long tongue; it therefore makes use of a twig, held in its beak, to extract insects from bark (Speakley, 1989).

If all the 14 species had been created separately, why are they all finches? If a woodpecker would serve as a woodpecker in the rest of the world, why should it be a finch that acts as a woodpecker on the Galapagos? But the facts makre sense if the species all evolved from a common ancestor. If a single finch colonized the Galapagos and then speciated into the present 14 forms, we should expect them all to be finches: they all descended from a finch. The fact that they are finches is known from the homologies that define a finch. If they had been created separately, we should not expect them to share all th finch-homologies. The woodpecker would be the same woodpecker as anywhere else in the world; it would not have finch-defining traits. The Galapagos finches, therefore, provide evidence of evolution.

We now come to the final argument for evolution: the fossil record. The fossil record offers two candidate arguments for evolution. One is the direct of evolutionary change over geological time. Because geological time lasts longer than the life of any human being, we might hope that he fossil record would show more extensive evolutionary change than those cases of directly observed evolution that we have dealt with. The second kind of of geological argument steps back from observations of single evolutionary lineages to consider the pattern of the fossil record as a whole. This leads to the argument from what Darwin called -in a chapter title- "The Geological succession of Organic Beings". Let us consider the two in turn.

The fossil record of evolutionary change within single evolutionary lineages is very poor. If evolution is true, species originate through changes of ancestral species: one might expect to be able to see this in the fossil record. In fact it can rarely be seen. In 1859 Darwin could not cite a single example. He attributed the absence of examples to the incompleteness of the fossil record (cf. Mendelejeff's account on the elements' table). Thus the chapter of the Origin of Species in which he considers this first geological argument is entitled 'On the Imperfections of the Geological Record'. There are now some cases in which evolutionary change can be seen in the fossil record. A few dozen could be listed. But the most striking thing about them is their rarity. This being so, the first geological argument cannot provide a strong plea for evolution. With the accumulation of evidence it may become a powerful argument; but at present it is not. Nor, of course, is the rarity of observable evolution in the fossil record an argument against evolution. That rarity is exactly what an evolutionist would expect if the fosssil record contained many gaps: and it is known that the fossil record is very incomplete.

The second geological argument is more successful. For this argument we retreat from the evolutionary change of single lineages to look instead at the distribution of the main animal groups in time. Take the vertebrates as an example. Fish first appear in the fossil record before amphibians, amphibians appear before reptiles, reptiles appear before mammals, with a clear sequence of progressively more mammal-like reptiles, in the right order, in between; the first mammals appear before the smaller subgroups of mammals, such as apes; humans appear only a million of years ago. This sequence is exactly what the theory of evolution predicts. In order for a mammal to evolve from a fish it would have to go through amphibian, then reptilian, and the mammal-like reptilian stages; the evolutionist therefore expects these groups to appear in the fossil record in the order they do. Conversely, he would be very worried if they appeared in some other order. The pattern of geological succession, as a whole, fits evolution quite well.

It does no fit the theory of separate creation. If fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammal-like reptiles, and mammals had been created separately, it would be too great a coincidence that they should appear in the fossil record in exactly the order predicted by evolution. If mammals and fish had separate but contemporary origins, why are no mammals at all found in the fossil record as early as fish? There is one possible reason. Something like the theory of separate creation was held at one time by Charles Lyell. Lyell was a geologist, well aware of the pattern of the geological succession. He tried to reconcile it with separate creation by arguing that the groups that were common at a particular time were those favoured by the prevailing environmental conditions. Changes in which groups were common -he supposed- were caused by changes in the environment. Thus amphibians came after fish because the environment so changed as to enable amphibians to become relatively more abundant, and therefore relatively more likely to leave a fossil record.

Lyell's explanation of the geological succesion might stand up if the geological succession were the only argument for evolution (Leakey, 1977). It is a forced argument, but difficult to refute decisively. The main reason for supposing that Lyell was wrong -and it is the reason why he himself changed his mind in the 1860s- is that we have abundant other reasons for supposing that evolution, rather than separate creation is true. Once we accept evolution we can abandon Lyell's forced argument more confidently. The geological succession fits the theory of evolution.



Enough evidence has been forwarded to assess Bowlby's epistemological stance as 'empiric rationalism' (Bowlby, 1969, A & L1, Chapter 1: Point of View) where he addresses himself to a scientific methodology whereby,

1. Prospective approach;

2. Direct observation of children;

3. Separation as a traumatic agent;

4. Ethology, form the very bases of his theory of attachment.

First and foremost rationalism emphasizes the attitude that seeks to solve as many problems as possible by a resort to reason; i.e., to clear thought and experience rather than by an appeal to emotions and passions. Ultimately, rationalism boils down to an attitude of readiness to listen to critical arguments and to learn from experience.

The fact that the rationalist attitude considers the argument rather than the person is of far-reaching importance. It leads to the view that we must recognize everybody with whom we communicate as a potential origin of argument and reasonable information, regardless of the personal or institutional source. Conversely, the irrationalist will overlook the argument and enhance the source.

Furthermore, true rationalism is the awareness of one's limitations, the intellectual modesty of those who know how often they err, and how much they depend on others to have these mistakes corrected or even for the little knowledge they may eventually possess.

This must be teazed apart from pseudo-rationalism, which implies the immodest belief in one's superior intellectual gifts, the claim to be initiated, to know with certainty and with authority. An Attachment Theorist and Researcher should stick to the scientific method as adopted by Bowlby, and expounded by him clearly and distinctly, setting clear-cut differences between his stance and his contemporary fellow psychoanalysts. He states: "...most of the concepts that psychoanalysis have about early childhood have been arrived at by a PROCESS OF HISTORICAL RECONSTRUCTION (my emphasis) based on data derived from older subjects"... "Freud (and) virtually all subsequent analysts have worked from an end-product backwards"... "Thus, whereas almost all present day psychoanalytical theory starts with a clinical syndrome or symptom... and makes hypotheses about events and intrapsychical representational processes which are thought to have contributed to its development, the perspective adopted here starts on the opposite end, e.g., loss of mother-figure in infancy and attempts thence to trace the psychological and psychopathological processes that commonly result. It starts with the traumatic experience and works prospectively" (op. cit. pp 23-25). Exactly in the same way as any other scientific discipline does.

The preceding paragraphs lead us straightforwardly to what has become the most important intellectual issue of our time in general and of Attachment Theory in particular: the conflict between rationalism and irrationalism. Regrettably, during the last 25 years or so, a grat deal of intellectuals have warned us of a looming intellectual decadence. Saul Bellow, Allan Bloom, Susanne Langer, Thornton Wilder, Von Hayek, Sir Karl Popper, William Golding, Julian Marias, and so many others, have vouched their concern on human immediate future as regards what can significantly be labelled the Revolt Against Reason.

This rebellion against common sense, against reasonableness, against evidence, in support of self-proclaimed "creative minds" which advance totally unsubstantiated theories has grown up to become a fin-de siecle fashion, so powerful as to shadow purely determined logical arguments on the apparent brilliance of perfectly nonsensical blunders. We watch the ludicrous spectacle of brilliant interpretations in the face of obvious facts. Reality is simply overlooked to give way to personal brilliance or "creativity", to use the word in vogue.

Now this implies a choice of the utmost importance. The choice between rationalism and irrationalism, which is not simply an intellectual affair or a matter of taste. It is an ethical decision. For the question whether we adopt a rational stance as opposed to irrationalism will deeply affect our whole attitude towards other members of mankind and towards the problems which concern us most: the problems of social and emotional life. Rationalism, I believe, is closely tied to the belief in the unity of mankind. Irrationalism, which is not bound by any rules of consistency, may blend with any kind of belief, and especially for its proneness to support a romantic belief in the existence of an elect body, in the division of people into leaders and led, into natural enlightened ones versus humble learners, into intellectual masters and material slaves, into almighty parents and childish selfishness, into "freeing attachments" and "stifling attachments", and so on. All the above shows clearly that an ethical decision is involved in the choice between irrationalism, in whatever form it is disguised, and rationalism.

I intend further to elaborate on the issue of irrationalism versus rationalism because of its crucial role in the understanding of the difference between the epistemological status of Bowlby's Theory of Attachment and other approaches, either before or after Bowlby's scientific output.

I deem Bowlby's approach the first to take socio-emotional issues seriously; which is totally in keeping with the rationalist attitude to take arguments seriously.

For this is the fundamental difference between the two views: for irrationalism will use reason too, without any feeling of obligation and thus will use it or discard it as it pleases. In other words, the irrationalist uses reason either to amuse himself or to manipulate others. He never feels that reason is above him.

Typically irrationalists will argue that human nature is in the main not rational. Men and women, they hold, are more than mere rational animals, and also less.

Much of the criticism Bowlby's approach has arisen is in exactly the same vein as other rationalists have gathered ever since the Middle Ages! (the opposition between scholasticism and mysticism). If you care to confront Bowlby's statements with Nagel's, you will become aware of the parallelism both lines of arguments share. Bowlby states: "Data drawn from direct observations is currently (1969) regarded as of peripheral concern... it can provide only superficial information in sharp contrast with the direct observation of mental intrap`sychical functioning that obtains during psychoanalytic treatment. (Not that I attack psychoanalysis, I simply see no reason why psychoanalysis must remain static and thereby proto-scientific). Nagel expresses: "To the irrationalists, the rationalists, and especiallly the rational scientist, are the poor in spirit, pursuing soulless and largely mechanical activities, and completely unaware of the deeper problems of human destiny and of its philosophy".

Needless to say, no rational argument will have a rational effect on somebody who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.



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Bowlby, J. (1969/82) A&L, vol. 1: Attachment. Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1973) A&L, vol. 2: Separation. The Hogarth Press.

Bowlby, J. (1980) A&L, vol. 3: Loss. The Hogarth Press.

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