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Attachment theory: what it is, postulates, applications and disorders

Attachment theory: what it is, postulates, applications and disorders. Parents lifting their child.

General health psychologist Rosa Hidalgo Torres discusses attachment theory in this article, as well as the main postulates of attachment theory, applications and disorders.

What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory is a term used to describe emotional bonds. They have a significant impact on birth and neurodevelopment.

Attachment is the deep emotional bond, which forms between a person and his or her primary attachment figures, usually parents or primary caregivers.

From the moment of birth, attachment plays a crucial role in the well-being and development of the newborn. Infants depend on their caregivers to meet their basic needs, such as nourishment, security and affection. The quality of the attachment relationship will influence how infants experience and respond to the world around them.

When caregivers respond sensitively and consistently to the infant’s cues and needs, secure attachment is established, which promotes healthy development and a secure base from which they can explore their environment and develop cognitive and emotional skills.

Who developed the attachment theory?

Attachment theory was developed by the British psychologist John Bowlby, in the years (1969-1980), who argued that human beings have an innate tendency to seek proximity and contact with their attachment figures, especially in times of distress or danger.

Bowlby, through his work during World War II with children separated from their parents and who were institutionalized, found specific behavioral patterns and emotional responses that were common in all of them: a strong need to establish and maintain proximity with their primary caregivers, especially in situations of stress or danger.

He observed that children sought physical contact, security and comfort from their attachment figures to soothe their distress and restore their sense of security and that the quality of the attachment relationship between the child and his or her primary caregiver had a significant impact on emotional development and on the way children interacted with the world.

The main postulates of attachment theory

The need for attachment: Human beings have an innate need to establish emotional and affective bonds with attachment figures, especially during the first years of life. This bond provides security, protection and emotional support.

The importance of the attachment figure: The primary caregiver, usually the maternal figure, plays a crucial role in attachment development. This figure becomes a secure base from which the child can explore the world and to whom he or she can turn in times of stress or danger.

Caregiver sensitivity and responsiveness: The quality of attachment depends largely on the caregiver’s sensitivity and responsiveness to the child’s emotional needs. Caregivers who are sensitive, warm, and consistent in their responses foster a secure and healthy attachment.

Internal working models: Early attachment experiences form internal working models in the child’s mind, which are mental representations of relationships and the world. These internal models influence how the child perceives and responds to relationships and can have a lasting impact on their emotional and social development.

The influence of attachment on later development: The quality of attachment established in infancy has implications for the child’s later development. Children with secure attachment tend to show greater confidence, self-esteem, emotional regulation and social skills, whereas those with insecure attachment may experience difficulties in these areas.

His pioneering work laid the foundation for attachment theory, which has significantly influenced our understanding of emotional development, interpersonal relationships and mental health across the lifespan.

Types of attachment

Bowlby identified four types of attachment: secure, avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized. These patterns were manifested in children’s emotional responses and behaviors when they encountered new, stressful or threatening situations.

What disorders can arise if there is no secure attachment?

In terms of neurodevelopment, the quality of attachment influences the way brain circuits develop and neural connections are established.

The brain regions involved are:

Amygdala: The amygdala plays a crucial role in emotional response and fear regulation. In the context of secure attachment, a healthy and well-regulated amygdala allows for an appropriate response to stressful situations and rapid recovery after conflict resolution.

Hippocampus: The hippocampus is critical for memory and learning. Secure attachment promotes proper hippocampal development, which facilitates the formation of positive emotional memories and the ability to learn from experiences.

Prefrontal cortex: The prefrontal cortex plays a crucial role in emotional regulation, decision-making and planning. In the context of secure attachment, proper development of the prefrontal cortex is promoted, allowing for better emotional self-regulation and more balanced decision making.

Reward system: The reward system, which includes regions such as the nucleus accumbens and cingulate cortex, is involved in the experience of pleasure and gratification. Secure attachment promotes healthy activation of this system, allowing for a greater ability to experience and enjoy social and affective interactions.

Infants who experience secure attachment have a more balanced stress system and a more efficient response to stressful situations.

Conversely, insecure attachment styles may experience difficulties in emotional regulation and have a reduced ability to establish healthy social relationships.

Attachment disorders that may be found

How do I know if I am raising my child with secure attachment?

To assess whether you are raising your child with secure attachment, you can look for the following signs and behaviors:

Secure attachment develops and strengthens over time. It is always possible to work on building a secure attachment with your child, even if there are areas where you feel you need to improve.

How can we foster secure attachment with our children?

To foster secure attachment with our children, it is important to keep in mind some guidelines that caregivers can follow:

At the same time, there are certain actions or attitudes that we should avoid as parents so as not to interfere with the formation of a secure attachment:


Attachment theory has aided in the understanding of child development and has demonstrated its relevance in clinical and educational practice. Numerous research and studies in this field have affirmed that early attachment is critical, as attachment patterns established in infancy can have repercussions throughout life.

Secure attachment in childhood is associated with improved emotional well-being, greater resilience and better coping skills in adulthood. Conversely, insecure attachment may predispose to emotional problems and difficulties in interpersonal relationships in adulthood.

Identifying and addressing attachment difficulties during infancy can have positive effects on the child’s emotional and relational development. Each child and situation is unique, and it is important to adapt these guidelines to each child’s individual needs. The key is to maintain a loving, respectful and responsive relationship with your child, and to seek support from a child psychologist if you have concerns or difficulties in parenting.


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