A history of attachment research and its applications
Attachment is among the most popular theories of human socioemotional development, with a global research community and widespread interest from clinicians, child welfare professionals, educationalists and parents. It has been considered “one of the most generative contemporary ideas” about family life in modern society (Pittman 2012). However it has also been liable to misunderstanding and misapplication, leading to confusion in communication among researchers, among practitioners, and between researchers and practitioners.
A study of the history of attachment research and its applications in clinical and child welfare practice with children and families was undertaken between 2012 and 2020, with Robbie Duschinsky as principal investigator. The study was supported by an Investigator Award in Medical Humanities from Wellcome. Other researchers funded to work on the project were Sarah Foster, Sophie Reijman, Samantha Reisz and Helen Beckwith.
The research resulted in the publication of two books, both free to download:
Duschinsky, R. (2020) Cornerstones of Attachment Research (Oxford University Press)
Cornerstones of Attachment Research re-examines the work of some of the key laboratories that have contributed to the study of attachment. Chapters address the work led by Bowlby, Ainsworth, Main and Hesse, Sroufe and Egeland, and Shaver and Mikulincer. Cornerstones of Attachment Research utilises attention to these five research groups as a lens on wider themes and challenges faced by attachment research over the decades.
Duschinsky, R. & Foster, S. (2021) Mentalizing and Epistemic Trust: The work of Peter Fonagy and colleagues at the Anna Freud Centre (Oxford University Press)
The theory of mentalizing and epistemic trust introduced by Peter Fonagy and colleagues at the Anna Freud Centre has been an important perspective on mental health and illness, drawing from but also criticising previous work in the tradition of attachment research. Mentalizing and Epistemic Trust is the first comprehensive account and evaluation of this perspective.
15 July 2021 launch event: Mentalising, Epistemic Trust and Attachment: Changing Theories and their Practice Implications
On 15 July 2021, a webinar was held to celebrate the publication of the two books and you can watch the recorded webinar here. Dr Chloe Campbell, Deputy Director of the Psychoanalysis Unit at UCL, Professor Pasco Fearon, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at University College London and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, Dr Peter Fuggle, Clinical Director of Clinical Services at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and Dr Dickon Bevington, Consultant in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in the NHS, and Medical Director for Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families discussed the books with Robbie Duschinsky, Sarah Foster and a large audience of practitioners and researchers.
The research also led to work on two international consensus statements (free to download):
Forslund, T., Granqvist, P., van IJzendoorn, M. H., Sagi-Schwartz, A., Glaser, D., Steele, M., … & Duschinsky, R. (2021). Attachment goes to court: Child protection and custody issues. Attachment & Human Development, Early View
Attachment theory and research are used in many applied settings including the family courts. The aim of this consensus statement is to enhance understanding and counter misinformation, especially relating to child protection and child custody decision-making. We also discuss the suitability of assessments of attachment quality and caregiving behaviour to inform family court decision-making.
Granqvist, P., Sroufe, A., Dozier, M., Hesse, E. Steele, M. … & Duschinsky, R. (2017) Disorganized attachment in infancy: A review of the phenomenon and its implications for clinicians and policy-makers. Attachment & Human Development 19(6): 534-558
The disorganised attachment classification has seen widespread interest from policy makers, practitioners, and clinicians in recent years. However, some of this interest seems to have been based on false assumptions. This paper discusses four false assumptions, reviews what is known about disorganised infant attachment, and clarifies the implications of the classification for clinical and welfare practice with children.
This infographic provides an introduction to the consensus statement, for practitioners.
The research also led to the publication of various academic articles (free to download). These include:
Duschinsky, R., Bakkum, L., Mannes, J., Skinner, G., Turner, M., Mann, A., Coughlan, B., Reijman, S., Foster, S., Beckwith, H. (2021). Six attachment discourses: Convergence, divergence and relay. Attachment and Human Development. Early View
In this article for a special issue we develop a theme from Cornerstones, tracing how attachment concepts may vary in meaning across six different domains: popular discourses, developmental science, social psychological science, psychiatric diagnosis, psychotherapy, and child welfare practice.
This research led to work with colleagues at Amsterdam VU on an Online Glossary for attachment terminology – Explanations Of Attachment Theoretical Concepts – which was published by the Society for Emotion and Attachment Studies in 2021.
Other free-to-download contributions to the special issue of Attachment and Human Development:
Prospecting the attachment research field: a move to the level of engagement by Schuengel et al.
Replication crisis lost in translation? On translational caution and premature applications of attachment theory by van IJzendoorn & Bakermans-Kranenburg
The God, the blood, and the fuzzy by Pehr Granqvist
Duschinsky, R. (2019). Attachment and the archive: barriers and facilitators to the use of historical sociology as complementary developmental science. Science in Context, 32(3), 309-326.
This is an autobiographical article by Duschinsky, describing his experiences of studying the history of attachment, and discussing factors that helped and hindered the conversation between historical research and contemporary empirical study of attachment.
Reijman, S., Foster, S., & Duschinsky, R. (2018). The infant disorganised attachment classification:“Patterning within the disturbance of coherence”. Social Science & Medicine, 200, 52-58.
In this paper we analyse how the infant disorganised attachment classification has been interpreted, reporting results from archival study, ethnographic observations at training institutes for coding disorganised attachment, interviews with researchers, certified coders and clinicians, and focus groups with child welfare practitioners. We highlight how understandings of disorganised attachment have been magnetised by a simplified image of a child fearful of his or her own parent.
Duschinsky, R. (2018). Disorganization, fear and attachment: Working towards clarification. Infant Mental Health Journal, 39(1), 17-29.
This article revisits the texts by Main and Hesse that introduced the idea of ‘fright without solution’ into attachment research, clarifying their claims through attention to the different meanings of the term fear. This clarified account was then applied to consider different potential pathways to infant disorganised behaviours.
Reisz, S., Duschinsky, R., & Siegel, D. J. (2018). Disorganized attachment and defense: exploring John Bowlby’s unpublished reflections. Attachment & human development, 20(2), 107-134.
This paper was based on detailed research in the John Bowlby Archive in the Wellcome Collection, with particular attention to his major unpublished work Defences that Follow Loss. We report on Bowlby’s reflections on the nature of coping strategies, especially as used in family relationships, and the psychological processes brought into play when these fail. We were able to publish Defences that Follow Loss in the Duschinsky & White edited volume (below).
Duschinsky, R., Greco, M., & Solomon, J. (2015). The politics of attachment. Theory, Culture & Society, 32(7-8), 173-195.
Research on attachment is widely regarded in sociology and feminist scholarship as politically conservative, oriented by a concern to police families, pathologize mothers and emphasize psychological at the expense of socio-economic factors. This paper – and a companion paper Wait Up!: Attachment and sovereign power – consider and update these claims in light of developments in social theory and in social policy.
Edited books on attachment research
The research for the project led to identification of many off-the-beaten-path papers relevant to understanding attachment. This led to the publication of two edited books (not free to download unfortunately):
Duschinsky, R. & White, K. (2019) Trauma and Loss: Key Texts from the John Bowlby Archive, London: Routledge
Forslund, T. & Duschinsky, R. (2021) Attachment Theory & Research: A Reader, New York: Wiley