Ethological Attachment Theory and ASD

Maternal deprivation in Rhesus monkey's - Harry Harlow's 1950s experimentsfamous experiments

Maternal deprivation in Rhesus monkeys – Harry Harlow’s famous experiments, 1950s

Ethological Attachment Theory: A Great Idea in Personality?

By Patricia Pendry, Northwestern University (complete paper)

This paper critically reviews the ethological attachment theory as proposed by Bowlby and Ainsworth in order to examine if attachment theory is a great idea in personality. The most important aspects of attachment theory are presented and two critical questions are posed. The first question is, Can attachment theory be supported by empirical evidence? To answer this question, a variety of studies will be reviewed, each of which examines a specific aspect of attachment theory. The second question is whether the phenomena explained by creators and proponents of ethological attachment theory could have been explained differently, using other psychological mechanisms. These are two criteria that must be met if attachment theory is to be considered a great idea.

After millions of years of successful rearing of infants by primates, is it not peculiar that modern social humans are still arguing over How to be a proper parent?

After millions of years of successful childrearing by primates, is it not peculiar that modern social humans are still trying to figure out how to be a proper parent? Tribal people get it. Why don’t we?


“Given that attachment security describes the interpersonal relationship between infant and caregivers, one could easily see that personality traits and temperament play an active role in the dynamics of establishing this relationship. Attachment theorists recognize this aspect and note that it is exactly the concept of sensitive caregiving that forms an effective predictor of the quality of the attachment bond.  A major reason that temperament and other child characteristics do not show strong relationships with attachment security may be that their influence depends on goodness-of-fit. From this perspective, many attributes of children can lead to secure attachment, as long as the caregivers modify their behavior to fit the needs of the baby (Seifer & Schiller, 1995). But when a mother’s capacity to do so is limited by her own personality or stressful conditions then infants with difficult temperament or problem behaviors are at risk for developing attachment insecurity. According to attachment theorists, sensitive caregiving implies that regardless of the innate temperament of the infant, whether introverted or extraverted, whether shy or irritable, whether outgoing or confident, the care is adjusted to fit precisely the need of that particular infant. It is this eclectic nature of ethological attachment theory that becomes another strength.”


Is this not a problem in Western culture, where “spare the rod, spoil the child” mentality still lurks beneath social indoctrination? Your child “acts funny” so he or she must be examined, tested, diagnosed and categorized and then is coerced into being someone it is not. Hysteria surrounds childrearing in contemporary America, especially among the upper classes – which likely accounts for ASD diagnosis skyrocketing in this group.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s