To use all functions of this page, please activate cookies in your browser.
With an accout for my.bionity.com you can always see everything at a glance – and you can configure your own website and individual newsletter.
- My watch list
- My saved searches
- My saved topics
- My newsletter
John Bowlby (February 26, 1907 – September 2, 1990) was a British psychoanalyst, notable for his interest in child development and his pioneering work in attachment theory.
Additional recommended knowledge
John Bowlby was born in London to an upper-middle-class family. He was the fourth of six children and was raised by a nanny in traditional British fashion of his class. His father, Sir Anthony Bowlby, was surgeon to the King's Household, but with a tragic history; at age five, his own father (John's grandfather) had been killed while serving as a war correspondent in the Anglo-Chinese Opium War. Normally, John saw his mother only one hour a day after teatime, though during the summer she was more available. Like many other mothers of her social class, she considered that parental attention and affection would lead to dangerous spoiling. When Bowlby was almost four years old, his beloved nanny, who was actually his primary caretaker in his early years, left the family. Later, he was to describe this separation as being as tragic as the loss of a mother.
At the age of seven, he was sent off to boarding school, as was common for boys of his social status. His later work, for example Separation: Anxiety and Anger, revealed that he regarded it as a terrible time for him. Because of such experiences as a child, he displayed an unusual sensitivity to children’s suffering throughout his life.
John Bowlby’s intellectual career began at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, where he studied psychology and pre-clinical sciences. He won prizes for outstanding intellectual performance. After Cambridge he took some time to work with maladjusted and delinquent children, then at the age of twenty-two enrolled at University College Hospital in London. At the age of twenty-six he qualified in medicine. While still in medical school he also found time to enroll himself in the Institute for Psychoanalysis. Following medical school, he trained in adult psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital. In 1937, he qualified as a psychoanalyst, and he became president of Trinity College in 1938.
Because of his previous work with maladapted and delinquent children, he became interested in the development of children and began work at the Child Guidance Clinic in London. This interest was probably increased by a variety of wartime events involving separation of young children from familiar people; these included the rescue of Jewish children by the Kindertransport arrangements, the evacuation of children from London to keep them safe from air raids, and the use of group nurseries to allow mothers of young children to contribute to the war effort. 
Bowlby was interested in finding out the actual patterns of family interaction involved in both healthy and pathological development. He focused on how attachment difficulties were transmitted from one generation to the next. The three most important experiences for Bowlby’s future work and the development of attachment theory were his work with:
'Maternal Deprivation' controversy
While working for the World Health Organization in 1951 Bowlby produced 'Maternal Care and Mental Health' in which he expounded the theory of 'Maternal Deprivation'. By a mechanism that Bowlby saw as very similar to imprinting, which he called 'monotropy', Bowlby described the process by which the young infant developed a firm attachment or bond to its mother in the second six months of life. The breaking of this attachment by abrupt, long-term separation during the toddler period would cause serious consequences, according to Bowlby.
Although this work had popular appeal that still finds resonance today, there was a great deal of professional disquiet at the time, for example, Wootton discussed the absence of evidence for the claim that the effects were irreversible. As a result of these criticisms the WHO felt obliged to publish a rebuttal entitled, 'Deprivation of maternal care. A reassessment of its effects' (1962). Professor Sir Michael Rutter in 'Maternal Deprivation Reassessed' (1972), which New Society described as a, 'classic in the field of child care', showed that children are not invariably so damaged and that, in any event, other people, including their fathers, are also very important to children. According to Schaffer in 'Social Development' (2000) it seems likely that social convention explains whatever parenting differences are observed and that when fathers assume the principal responsibility for their children such differences disappear.
It was in the light of such research evidence that Bowlby adapted the original idea of 'Maternal Deprivation' and developed the attachment theory. In his view, attachment behavior was an evolutionary survival strategy for protecting the infant from predators, and attachment theory reflects that. Mary Ainsworth, a student of Bowlby’s, further extended and tested his ideas, and in fact played the primary role in suggesting that several attachment styles existed.
Attachment theory is highly regarded as a well-researched explanation of infant and toddler behavior and in the field of infant mental health. It is hard to imagine any clinical work with an infant or toddler that is not about attachment, since dealing with that issue has been shown to be an essential developmental task for that age period.
Following Bowlby‘s leads, a few established child-development researchers and others have suggested developmentally appropriate mental health interventions to sensitively foster emotional relationships between young children and adults. These approaches used tested techniques which were not only congruent with attachment theory, but with other established principles of child development. In addition, nearly all mainstream approaches for the prevention and treatment of disorders of attachment use attachment theory. Treatment and prevention programs include Alicia Lieberman ("Parent-child Psychotherapy"), Stanley Greenspan ("Floor Time"), Mary Dozier (autonomous states of mind), Robert Marvin ("Circle of Security"), Daniel Schechter (intergenerational communication of trauma), and Joy Osofsky ("Safe Start Initiative").
Some clinicians have claimed Bowlby's theory as a basis for controversial interventions popularly known as attachment therapy, but such claims have not had wide confirmation from theoreticians and the interventions themselves have been criticized as not meeting generally accepted standards of research or practice by professionals.
He died September 2, 1990 at his summer home in Isle of Skye, Scotland. He had married Ursula Longstaff, herself the daughter of a surgeon, on April 16, 1938, and they had four children, including (Sir) Richard Bowlby, who succeeded his uncle as third Baronet and has in recent years been supportive of interest in his father's work, in which he has, however, no professional training.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "John_Bowlby". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|