Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development

pp 275-277

Bowlby’s Stages of Attachment

  • Cynthia FieldAffiliated withWilliam Alanson White Institute


The British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby described four phases in the early development of human attachment. Each phase is characterized by behaviors and, as the child matures, cognitions that are used to maintain proximity to or contact, both emotional and physical, with primarily the mother as well as other figures. Bowlby believed that humans are biologically built to become attached as a survival strategy.


An attachment is an affectional bond that one person has with another, which connects them to each other and usually indicates affection or love. Normally, the first attachment the child forms is to the mother (or primary mother figure), and this attachment develops over time as the child matures. Bowlby developed a theory of human attachment to explain the child’s close affectional bond with the mother and based this theory of psychological development in part on ethology and on Darwinian evolutionary principles of survival. ...

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