Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Comparison of Attachment Theory and Cognitive-Motivational Structure Theory

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Comparison of Attachment Theory and Cognitive-Motivational Structure Theory

Article excerpt

Attachment theory and Cognitive-Motivational Structure (CMS) are similar in most respects. They differ primarily in their proposal of when, during development, one's sense of the self and of the outside world are formed. I propose that the theories supplement each other after about age seven years-when Attachment theory's predictions of social function become unreliable, CMS theory comes into play.

Attachment theory and Cognitive-Motivational Structure (CMS) theory are both clinically-derived theories of personality or character formationabiding patterns of social function. Both theories attribute such abiding patterns to experiences of types of caregiving received during childhood. The theories differ when explaining the timeframe in which these experiences are thought to be instrumental in the formation of patterns that continue into adulthood. Attachment theory accords much weight to experiences that occur during the first year or two of life, while CMS theory proposes that the critical period for the formation of such abiding patterns of social function is between ages eight and eleven years. ¥.


Attachment theory grew from Bowlby's (1973) idea that the helpless infant needs proximity to protective figures in order to survive and from Ainsworth's (1982) studies of children's responses to the Strange Situation, an experiment in which the mother repeatedly leaves the child. Bowlby proposed that approximately at one year of age humans automatically begin to track their lifelong access to protective figures (Main, 1987). He reasoned that this tracking tendency was a genetic adaptation of early, savanna-roaming humans to protect infants from predators. Bowlby (1988) proposed that beginning at age one year the child forms a working model of the self and of the world based on experiences with the primary caregiver, although the child's working model might change in response to subsequent traumatic or beneficial experiences. With Bowlby's proposal in mind, Ainsworth constructed the Strange Situation. In the Strange Situation, a mother brings her one-year-old child into a room that is furnished with objects that would interest a child of that age. A stranger enters the room. The mother leaves, returns, then leaves, and returns once more-all within 20 minutes.

Depending on babies' responses, Ainsworth (1982) classified them as having secure or insecure attachments to their mothers. She further grouped the reactions: K-avoidant insecure, ^-secure, or C-ambivalent ' insecure. The majority of babies were rated B-as having secure attachments. They noted their mothers' absence, but continued to explore while their mothers were gone. When their mothers returned, the babies touched base with their mothers and then explored some more. A- and C-babies were rated as having insecure attachments: A-avoidant-insecure-babies appeared to ignore their mothers when they left and when they returned. C-ambivalent-insecure-babies became increasingly distressed when their mothers left and could not be consoled. Generally, the baby's classification did not change at age 18 months unless the mother's life had changed. Ainsworth found that the mothers of B babies accepted attachment and were sensitive and responsive; mothers of A babies rejected attachment, and mothers of C babies were inconsistent in their attitudes toward attachment. (see Table 1.)

Subsequent Attachment theorists put forward the idea that secure attachment begins in infancy and it is a protective and persisting construct that lasts into adulthood, unless the child is subject to adverse experiences (Sroufe et al., 1999; Aguilar et al., 2000). Insecure attachment, which also begins in infancy, is a less-than-optimal, persistent construct that lasts into adulthood. Each type of attachment lasts unless the child is subject to some corrective experience. To Bowlby and to other Attachment theorists, the working model of the B baby is both desirable and the norm. …

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