Clinical Implications of Attachment

By Jay Belsky; Teresa Nezworski | Go to book overview

9
Avoidance and its Relation to Other Defensive Processes

Jude Cassidy University of Illinois

R. Rogers Kobak University of Denver

An infant's avoidance of the parent during reunion in Ainsworth's Strange Situation procedure is a striking phenomenon. Whereas the majority of infants seek proximity or at least interaction with the parent following a brief laboratory separation, a substantial minority of infants actively avoid the parent. Avoidant infants ignore the parent's bid for approach or interaction, become preoccupied with a toy, actively turn or move away from the parent, or, if picked up, stiffly hold their bodies away from the parent ( Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). In a situation in which high activation of the attachment system is normally expected, avoidant infants show a marked absence of distressed affect and attachment behavior; such infants can be viewed as cutting off affective responses. The presence of the avoidant pattern of attachment in approximately 25% of both middle-class and high-risk samples is a well-replicated finding ( Ainsworth et al., 1978; Main & Weston, 1981; Waters, 1978), as is the stability of avoidance during infancy ( Connell, 1976; Main & Weston, 1981; Owen, Easterbrooks, Chase-Lansdale, & Goldberg, 1984; Waters, 1978).

Avoidance has been viewed as a behavioral manifestation of an underlying attachment-related pattern of organization, and, in particular, as a defensive strategy in response to parental rejection ( Ainsworth, 1984; Bowlby, 1973, 1980; Main, 1981). If there is a defensive component in the organization of the attachment system of the avoidant infant (with a behavioral manifestation of avoidance in the strange situation), it is possible that such a defensive component remains, albeit in a modified form, in the personality organization of some children and adults. The question arises: How is this defensive component manifested in the organization of

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