Identification, Attachment, and Their Developmental Sequencing in a Conditioning Frame
Jacob L. Gewirtz
Theorists of early social development have long attended to two focal behavior systems, one connoting attachment to, and the other identification with, the parent-model. The psychoanalytic, cognitive-developmental, and behavior theories have concerned themselves with the sequential appearance of the attachment and identification processes. The social-conditioning approach to attachment and to identification are reviewed, those two processes fleshed out, and their early sequencing considered.
In the social-conditioning approach, attachment has served as a metaphor labeling the process wherein a complex of child-response patterns comes to be cued and reinforced/maintained (i.e., controlled) by appearance- and behavior-provided stimuli from an attachment object, in early life the mother among others. The child-response pattern can maintain contact or proximity. Identification reduces to pervasive imitation acquired via a conditional-responding process whereby a child acquires the range of behaviors of the repertory (including behaviors connoting values and standards) of a parent model, usually the parent of the child's gender. Such conditional responses can be emitted after lengthy delays or in the model's absence, and would be acquired/maintained by at least occasional extrinsic reinforcers provided by contingent parent/adult responses. Unreinforced imitations may appear to be instances of "observational learning" to those unaware of the matching-response class' conditioning history.
Freud theorized that the object relationship/attachment typically precedes identification. J. M. Baldwin and later Kohlberg conceived that the identification process precedes attachment. From a behavioral view, the order of appearance of the processes connoting attachment and identification is a pseudo question, as the two processes are conceived to be orthogonal.
Theorists of social learning and development have long attended to two focal