Attachment theory has become an important way of understanding human social development in the early stages. The theory emphasizes the importance of social attachment for infants, usually to the parents, and how that attachment affects adult relationships later in life. Scientists have classified people into four different attachment patterns.
Secure: This is the ideal attachment pattern. The infant’s needs are met, and he or she has the confidence to explore the world.
Ambivalent: Caregiver is inconsistent in meeting the infant’s needs. These people will have more difficulty trusting people later in life.
Avoidant: Caregiver fails to respond to the child’s needs. These people develop high levels of independence, to the point of being unfulfilled by social interaction. Pascal Vrticka, of the University of Geneva, looked at brain patterns and found that people with avoidant attachment showed less activity than others in the reward centers when interacting socially.
Disorganized: Associated with abused children. These people have low self-esteem, and, although they desire them, they are uncomfortable in close relationships.
A University of Minnesota study recorded attachment patterns of 42-month-old children and then predicted which ones would get their high school diplomas—with an accuracy rate of 77 percent.
Though some of these attachment patterns are more healthy than others, any attachment is better than no attachment.
A scientist named Henry Harlow studied the behavior of baby rhesus monkeys who were isolated from their mothers in an effort to protect them from disease. These babies became very attached to soft monkey dolls placed in their cages as surrogate mothers, but when they encountered other monkeys they became violently fearful, gnawing at themselves and pulling at their fur until bloody. Their lack of early attachment made them incapable of interacting with other monkeys for the rest of their lives.
This study shows just how strong the need for attachment in primates, like ourselves, can be.