Although traditional accounts of attachment theory attempted to partition the organism’s attachment and separation responses into those that were instinctive and those that were the result of the developmental environment, recent findings from epigenetics are indicating that no such partitioning is possible, even in principle. Rather than assuming the expression of a given behavioral trait is based on some set of instincts (as Bowlby and many of his colleagues did for attachment and separation responses), behavioral development is now seen as a self-organizing, probabilistic process in which pattern and order emerge and change as a result of ongoing co-actions among developmentally relevant components both internal (e.g., genes, hormones, neural networks) and external (e.g., temperature, diet, social interaction) to the organism. Exploring the specific prenatal and postnatal features of the mother–infant interaction system is providing a new appreciation of the complexity of the origins and maintenance of early attachment and its long-term consequences.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Beebe, B., Jaffe, J., Lachmann, F., Feldstein, S., Crown, C., & Jasnow, J. (2000). Systems models in development and psychoanalysis: the case of vocal rhythm coordination and attachment. Infant Mental Health Journal, 21, 99–122. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-0355(200001/04)21:1/2<99::AID-IMHJ11>3.0.CO;2-#.
Beebe, B., Jaffe, J., Markese, S., Buck, K., Chen, H., Cohen, P., et al. (2008). Microanalysis of mother–infant interaction at 4-months predicts 12-month attachment. Attachment and Human Development (in press).
Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 33, 1–24.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss, vol. 1. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss, vol. 2: Separation. New York: Basic Books.
Cairns, R. B. (1998). The making of developmental psychology. In R. M. Lerner (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology, vol 1: Theoretical models of human development (pp. 25–106). New York: Wiley.
Feng, J., Fouse, S., & Fan, G. (2007). Epigenetic regulation of neural gene expression and neural function. Pediatric Research, 61, 58R–63R. doi:10.1203/pdr.0b013e3180457635.
Fish, E. W., Shahrokh, D., Bagot, R., Caldji, C., Bredy, T., Szyf, M., & Meaney, M. J. (2004). Epepigenetic programming of stress responses through variations in maternal care. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1036, 167–180. doi:10.1196/annals.1330.011.
Fox, N., & Card, J. A. (1999). Psychophysiological measures in the study of attachment. In J. Cassidy, & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment. New York: Guilford.
Francis, D. D., Diorio, J., Liu, D., & Meaney, M .J. (1999). Nongenomic transmission across generations in maternal behavior and stress responses in the rat. Science, 286, 1155– 1158.
Gottlieb, G. (1971). Development of Species identification in birds. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Gottlieb, G. (1997). Synthesizing nature–nurture: Prenatal origins of instinctive behavior. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Gottlieb, G., & Lickliter, R. (2004). The various roles of animal models in understanding human development. Social Development, 13, 311–325. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2004.000269.x.
Haraway, M. M., & Maples, E. G. (1998). Species-typical behavior. In Comparative psychology: A handbook (pp. 191–197). New York: Garland.
Hofer, M. A. (1994). Early relationships as regulators of infant physiology and behavior. Acta Paediatrica (Oslo, Norway), 397, 9–18. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.1994.tb13260.x.
Hofer, M. A. (2006). Psychobiological roots of early attachment. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 84–88. doi:10.1111/j.0963-7214.2006.00412.x.
Johnson-Pynn, J., Fragaszy, D. M., & Cummin-Sebree, S. (2003). Common territories in comparative and developmental psychology: quest for shared means and meanings in behavioral investigations. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 16, 1–27.
Johnston, T. D., & Edwards, L. (2002). Genes, interactions, and development. Psychological Review, 109, 26–34. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.109.1.26.
Johnston, T. D., & Gottlieb, G. (1981). Development of visual species identification in ducklings: what is the role of imprinting? Animal Behaviour, 29, 1082–1099. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(81)80061-9.
Levenson, J. M., & Sweatt, J. D. (2005). Epigenetic mechanisms in memory formation. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 6, 108–118. doi:10.1038/nrn1604.
Lickliter, R. (2005). Prenatal sensory ecology and experience: implications for perceptual and behavioral development in precocial birds. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 35, 235–274. doi:10.1016/S0065-3454(05)35006-6.
Lickliter, R., & Bahrick, L. E. (2000). The development of infant intersensory perception: advantages of a comparative convergent-operations approach. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 260–280. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.126.2.260.
Lickliter, R., & Bahrick, L. E. (2007). Thinking about development: the value of animal-based research for the study of human development. European Journal of Developmental Science, 1, 172–183.
Lickliter, R., & Gottlieb, G. (1985). Social interaction with siblings is necessary for the visual imprinting of species-specific maternal preference in ducklings. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 99, 371–378. doi:10.1037/0735-7036.99.4.371.
Lorenz, K. (1937). The companion in the bird’s world. The Auk, 54, 245–273.
Mayr, E. (1961). Cause and effect in biology. Science, 134, 1501–1506. doi:10.1126/science.134.3489.1501.
Michel, G., & Moore, C. (1995). Developmental psychobiology: An integrative science. Cambridge, MA: MIT.
Miller, D. B. (1997). The effects of nonobvious forms of experience on the development of instinctive behavior. In C. Dent-Reed, & P. Zukow-Goldring (Eds.), Evolving explanations of development (pp. 457–507). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Moffit, T. E. (2005). The new look of behavioral genetics in developmental psychopathology: gene–environment interplay in antisocial behaviors. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 533–554. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.4.533.
Oyama, S. (1985). The ontogeny of information: Developmental systems and evolution. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Polan, H. J., & Hofer, M. A. (1999). Psychobiological origins of infant attachment and separation responses. In J. Cassidy, & P.R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment (pp. 162–180). New York: Guilford.
Shanahan, M. J., & Hofer, S. M. (2005). Social context in gene–environment interactions: retrospect and prospect. Journal of Gerontology, 60B, 65–76.
Weaver, C. G., Diorio, J., Seckl, M. R., Szyf, M., & Meaney, M. J. (2004). Environmental regulation of hippocampal glucocorticoid receptor gene expression: characterization of intracellular mediators and potential genomic targets. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1024, 182–212. doi:10.1196/annals.1321.099.
West, M. J., King, A. P., & White, D. J. (2003). The case for developmental ecology. Animal Behaviour, 66, 617–622. doi:10.1006/anbe.2003.2221.
West-Eberhard, M. J. (2003). Developmental plasticity and evolution. New York: Oxford University Press.
The writing of this commentary was supported by NICHD grant RO1 HD048432. I thank Lorraine Bahrick for constructive comments on a draft of the commentary.
About this article
Cite this article
Lickliter, R. Theories of Attachment: The Long and Winding Road to an Integrative Developmental Science. Integr. psych. behav. 42, 397–405 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-008-9073-8
- Comparative psychology
- Animal models