Our local newspaper reprinted the article with this title by Samantha Rodman from the Washington Post.
A baby, the mother, and a research assistant (RA) play together in a room. The mother then briefly walks out of the room and shortly returns. A well-adjusted, “securely-attached” baby, 70% of those tested, will be upset when the mother leaves, but will allow the RA to calm them and will continue to play. The baby is then happy to see the mother return. Securely-attached babies are especially resilient, happy, stable, empathetic, and sociable, characteristics that carry on into adulthood. But the other babies have developed insecure patterns.
Insecure patterns. About 20% of the babies will show the “avoidant-attachment” pattern. They will act unconcerned by their mother’s departure or return. Physiological tests, such as heart rate, show they are just as stressed as the first babies, but they have learned there is no point in expressing their feelings because their caregivers in the past have not responded with sympathy and comfort.
Avoidant-attachment characteristics in adulthood can be either dismissive or fearful. A dismissive partner does not seem to need anyone, valuing career and hobbies over relationships. Fearful partners are passive in the relationship and have low self-esteem.
The remaining 10% of the babies will show the “anxious-ambivalent” pattern. They become very upset when their mothers leave and anxiously watch for her return. They cannot be calmed. But when she returns, the baby acts angry, even violent. This is thought to result from a lack of bonding between the mother and the baby. The mother is often inattentive or intrusive. The baby is angry because they cannot rely on her to respond to their needs.
In adults, anxious-ambivalent attachment is shown by always wanting to be close to the partner, always wanting to know their whereabouts, and needing constant reassurance of their love. Doing activities together is important, even though they continuously get on each other’s nerves.
Evidence suggests people choose partners that confirm the beliefs they learned as babies. Surprisingly, two insecure partners married to each other do not divorce any more frequently because these unhappy relationships feel familiar and confirm their expectations. However, a securely attached person is more likely to divorce an insecurely attached partner, presumably because they realize something is wrong.
Although the attachment patterns begin in childhood and stay with us, they can be changed in adulthood with therapy (so say the therapists).