Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications

By Jude Cassidy; Phillip R. Shaver | Go to book overview

Preface

It seems unlikely that either John Bowlby, when he first wondered about the relation between maternal deprivation and juvenile delinquency, or Mary Ainsworth, when she answered an advertisement in a London newspaper to work as a postdoctoral researcher with Bowlby, dreamed for a moment that their theoretical efforts would spawn one of the broadest, most profound, and most creative lines of research in 20th-century psychology. But that is what happened. Anyone who today conducts a literature search on the topic of “attachment” will turn up more than 2,000 entries spread across scores of physiological, clinical, developmental, and social psychology journals; packed into numerous anthologies; and dealing with every age period from infancy to old age.

In the fields of social and emotional development, attachment theory is the most visible and empirically grounded conceptual framework. In the growing clinical literature on the effects of early parent–child relationships, including troubled and abusive relationships, attachment theory is prominent. In the rapidly expanding field of research on the close relationships of adolescents and adults—including the study of romantic, marital, or “pair-bond” relationships—attachment theory is one of the most influential approaches. Among researchers who study bereavement, Bowlby’s volume on loss is a continuing source of insight and intellectual inspiration.

Moreover, attachment theory is one of the best current examples of the value of serious, coherent theorizing in psychology. It is a model of the process by which scientists move back and forth between clear conceptualizations and penetrating empirical research, with each pole of the dialectic repeatedly influencing the other over an extended period. Attachment theory today is in many respects similar to attachment theory thirty years ago, but it has become much more specific and is being extended significantly in important new directions as a result of careful and creative research. Because the theory was remarkably insightful and accurate to begin with, and because Ainsworth was such an effective researcher, the initial studies inspired by the theory were largely supportive of the theory’s basic ideas but were also surprising and provocative in certain respects. The theory encountered considerable criticism at first, as any new scientific theory should. Yet the many honors accorded to Bowlby and Ainsworth toward the ends of their careers symbolize the considerable respect their work now engenders.

One problem created by the enormous literature on attachment, and by the theory’s continual evolution in the light of new research, is that few scholars and researchers are familiar with the entire picture that is emerging. In order to make optimal use of the theory as a researcher, clinician, or teacher, one has to know what Bowlby and Ainsworth originally said; what subsequent research has revealed; which measures of attachment have been developed, as well as what they actually measure; and what recent theoretical and empirical developments contribute to the overall “story” of attachment relationships and personality development. The purpose of the present volume is to satisfy these important professional needs. The book will prove useful to anyone who studies attachment processes; who uses attachment theory in clinical work; or who

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