Attachment Questionnaires make a perfect example of Stereotyped Approaches.
Stereotyped Approaches typically show pre-scientific attempts at dealing with aspects of reality. They are all alike regardless of the discipline they address. Bowlby's theory of attachment and particularly its American reformulations display medieval persuasions on how to tackle human problems beyond our present, inchoate understanding.
Thus, alchemists believed that in order
to explain thermodynamics, it sufficed to make up teleological theoretical
entities or "principles" that invariably begged the question from the outset
(just as in, e.g.,
Phil Shaver's "I worry about being abandoned"). Priestly (Joseph) believed that oxygen was "dephlogisticated air", because as it spurts into the scientific observer's eye, for a physical object to turn into flames -a process known as combustion- it must harbour a potentially flammable substance, appropriately called "phlogiston" (from the Greek "phlogistos": flammable). So, when a wooden stick burned, it was simply liberating phlogiston which, of course, became flames by the very liberating process. Easy, ain't it? The same went with countless other examples in the history of science.
Therefore, typically and of fundamental importance, those who work in astereotyped manner believe they understand the case completely from the outset. Large-scale formulations are made very early. The primary aim is to fit the case into the theory that forms the basis for the early formulations (e.g., Phil Shaver's assertion that his methods and those used by his colleagues, Mary Main, Kim Bartholomew and others are perfectly scientific, and that their conclusions are no mere hypotheses but revealed truth). Meanings, facts, truths are assumed rather than discovered.
Specifically regarding the Attachment issues here at stake,
1. The primary aim of Attachment Theorists -particularly Shaver, Main, Bartholomew, Brennan, Fraley, Belsky, Hazan, and others- is to fit the case into the clinical theory that forms the basis for the a priori formulations. The clinical theory being their reformulation of Bowlby's original theory of attachment. Therefore, they assume everything, they know everything, they have nothing to discover.
2. The questionnaire process they carry
out, mostly in the guise of crude interviews, is viewed as an attempt to
get the interviewee fit into the initial formulation. To carry this out,
data presented are
merely filtered and forced or collapsed into the formulation. (Those interested in more detail about the kind of coarse questions interviewees are submitted to, take a look at Phil Shaver's site:
3. A tendentious approach is taken,
and alternative approaches are neglected, debased or not even recognized.
The questionnaire procedure is then erected as a paradigm, tantamount to
a process of
4. There is a striking tendency for
these questionnaire-makers to believe they possess an understanding
of the "truth", that they have a priviledged awareness of the nature
of people's affectional bonds. Tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity
is not a hallmark of their work.
They tend to present formulations dogmatically. Although some of them will often say that their conclusions are little more than hypotheses and that the clinical theory they ground their assertions on is likewise only a body of general hypotheses, in actual practice, their results are all too often treated as facts and clinical theory is all too often treated as unequivocal truth, as scientifically established
clinical law. (BTW, anyway, they deny they use a clinical theory).
5. These questionnaire-makers tend to
think and write, not in terms of children and parents's experiences,
but in highly intellectualized jargon, in cliches based on supposedly true
clinical facts. I refer here to their endlessly repeated "Separation Anxiety",
"Attachment Figure", "Anxious Attachment", "Attachment Styles", "Self-report
Attachment Measures", "Romantic Attachment", "Dismissive Avoidance", and
the like; all concepts deriving directly from the clinical theories
of Bowlby and his followers. The tendency to think in cliches is associated with a reductionism: simplistic, limited, cliche-ridden meanings are attributed to highly complex phenomena which may have multiple meanings or that change over time. Responses to the tendentious
questionnaires are viewed essentially as exemplifying attachment theory, or their version of attachment theory. The full richness and vividness of individual experiences are lost.
Heuristic vs. Algorithmic Strategies
Heuristic strategies are used when we face higlhy complex unpredictable processes because they direct thinking along paths more likely to lead us to a desired goal, less promising avenues being left unexplored.
Heuristic strategies guide the rearing
of children with the goal that they have emotionally healthy lives; no
strategies exist that automatically guarantee success in this area. Interpersonal
relationships (which may have various goals) are all conducted by heuristic
strategies. Fortunately, we can revise our heuristic strategies -by means
of error-correcting feedback- depending on the
success or failure in attaining our desired goal.
Two categories of strategies are available
to us -algorithmic and heuristic. Algorithmic strategies are plans for
prescribed step-by-step procedures, which, if slavishly followed, guarantee
solution; they inevitably lead to the desired goal. We use such strategies when the number of variables is small and complexity is comparatively not great. Cooking according to a recipe is to use an algorithm. Algorithmic methods are used to solve algebraic problems. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is performed algorithmically.
Attachment questionnaires are algorithms; the methodology q-makers use to create avoidance and anxiety dimensions, attachment-style categories, attachment-dimension scales, etc., is algorithmic. They practice prophecy and oracular psychology.
But because so many aspects of our lives
are complex, uncertain, and unpredictable, algorithmic strategies are not
always adequate. Heuristic strategies are used instead. Heuristic strategies
of thumb, or guidelines that may or may not be successful in attaining a desired goal. Webster reads: 1. Of an educational method in which students learn through investigation and discovery. 2.Computer Science. Of a problem-solving technique in which the best solution is selected at successive stages of a program. [From Greek heuriskein, find.]
In distinct contrast to the heuristic approach I am advocating, Attachment questionnaire-makers use an algorithmic approach. They seem to feel happy with statements emanating directly from the theory they adhere to and have their clinical interviews confirm the theory, nay, not only confirm, but also predict patterns of attachment for generations to come.
A nontrivial system of great complexity
which has been studied extensively in recent years is the game of chess.
It has been estimated that there are 10 to the power of 120 (a 1 followed
by 120 zeros) different possible sequences of moves from the beginning
of a standard chess game. And if proceeding algorithmically even the fastest
supercomputers would require years to scan all the possible sequences of
moves and their consequences before deciding what to do. To play a winning
game, human beings employ special heuristic strategies which select what
are likely to be the best moves from the astronomical number of possible
ones. These strategies guide the moves in the local immediate situation
at any moment (To work out heuristic chess-playing computer programs, much
time is spent interviewing good chess players to find out the nature of
their individual strategies. They are asked to do the equivalent of free
association as they play, thus revealing
their strategies and general thinking).