Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications

By Jude Cassidy; Phillip R. Shaver | Go to book overview
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Attachment and Caregiving
The Caregiving Behavioral System

CAROL GEORGE

JUDITH SOLOMON

An 8-month-old infant clambers on…a fallen tree while its mother sits about 7 feet
below. The infant slips and hangs by two hands. [His mother] looks up, stands on two
legs, and barely reaches the foot of her infant. She pulls it to her chest but it wriggles
free, repeats the climb only to slip at the same place again, to be rescued once more by
its mother.

—SCHALLER (1963, p. 263, describing gorillas)

Gremlin’s concern for Gimble went way beyond merely responding to his appeals for
help: like a good mother she would anticipate trouble…. Once, as she was carrying him
along a trail, she saw a small snake ahead. Carefully she pushed Gimble off her back and
kept him behind her as she shook branches at the snake until it glided away.

—GOODALL (1990, p. 169, describing chimpanzees)

One day Effie was observed contentedly feeding about twenty feet behind the group,
while Poppy, some six feet behind her mother, was solo playing and swinging in a
Seneco tree… suddenly Effie twirled around and stared at Poppy…. Poppy had fallen
and was hanging by her neck in a narrow fork of the tree. The infant could only feebly
kick her legs and flail her arms as the stranglehold began cutting off her oxygen.
Instantly Effie ran to her baby. With considerable effort she tugged at Poppy, trying to
release her from a potentially fatal position. Effie was wearing a horrified expression of
fear similar to that of a human parent whose child is in mortal danger….At last Effie
succeeded in releasing her infant from the tree’s stranglehold. Immediately upon
regaining her breath, Poppy began to whimper, then attached herself to Effie’s nipple for
four minutes before her mother carried her off, in a protective ventral position, toward
the group, which were unaware of the drama that had unfolded behind them.

—FOSSEY (1983, p. 88, describing gorillas)

Bowlby’s attachment theory has inspired a dramatic shift in the way we understand the development of the early infant–caregiver relationship and of relationships across the lifespan. In particular, his reframing of relationships in terms of the ethological concept of “behavioral systems” has added new meaning to our understanding of relationship development and function. The term “attachment” has become a shorthand phrase for an enduring relationship encompassing classes of observable behavior that, according to ethological theory, are regulated by the attachment system. The attachment system is one of many behavioral systems that have evolved to promote survival and reproductive success (Hinde, 1982a). The goal of attachment behavior is to

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