The evolutionary explanation of attachment was mainly developed by John Bowlby. Starting in the early 1940s he suggests that there is an innate nature attachment, this meaning that a baby is born biologically with ideas/ behaviours, for a baby to form an attachment with a caregiver. Bowlby suggests that the main reason for this instinctive attachment is due to the primary dependency for food and survival on a mother figure. Based on Freud’s theory that a mother – child relationship is important in forming future attachments Bowlby argues that the primary attachment between the baby and caregiver provided the child with what he calls an internal working model. This he describes as a template for future relationships as it gives the child an idea of whether or not they are lovable and a model of whether the person they are attached to is trustworthy or otherwise. Relating to this Bowlby also used Harlow’s study of rhesus monkeys and the importance of supplying care and comfort in a mother figure to develop what he calls a ‘safe base’ in which an infant feels secure to develop and grow as an individual without threat.
The ‘safe base’ would usually be with one care giver of which the child initially formed a strong primary attachment to, otherwise called monotropy. Bowlby also includes in his theory the idea that there is a sensitive period/ critical period of 16 months to 3 years in which an attachment MUST be made to prevent irreversible developmental issues for the child, for example higher levels of distraction or lowered intelligence resulting in difficulty in education and work. Another consequence of this attachment not being developed is the lack of an internal working model making it difficult for the child to form successful future attachments such as friends or a partner; this is also referred to as the continuity hypothesis. During this study Bowlby studied the care giver and the role of a mother in that he claims that mothers have a predisposition to react to an infant’s negative behaviour such as crying. Interlinking with this the child has an innate programming to behave in this way, also known as ‘social releasers’ that invoke a knee jerk reaction from the mother to comfort the infant and see to its basic needs to survive such as feeding.
These interactions more often than not lead to a stronger and more stable attachment. The main strength of the evolutionary explanation put forward by Bowlby is that it has given a much more in-depth understanding of how babies develop attachments to care givers from birth in order to survive. This being through the fact they have an instinct to form said attachment. This information can be used by maternal and medical institutions all over the world to promote a healthier baby- caregiver bond theoretically resulting in a more intelligent and successful new generation. Yet another strength of this study would be evidence to back up Bowlby theory of the internal working model by Hazan and Shaver (1987) and Black and Schutte (2006). His theory is made more reliable not only by the fact that two other studies came to a similar if not exact conclusion, but by the fact that these studies were conducted years apart, one being reasonably recent, and they still proved the same thing.
On the other hand one weakness would be that Bowlby’s theory of monotropy has not facts or physical evidence to support it and a study into attachments at a young age by Schaffer and Emerson concluded that the strongest bond was not necessarily between the mother and child as Bowlby suggests. It is more likely that multiple attachments will be made. This contradictory evidence causes some questionability into the reliability of this particular theory. Another weakness identified would be the evidence against Bowlby’s theory of continuity within the internal working model. A study carried out by Zimmerman in 2000 concluded that the idea of continuity can only be applied if serious life events have not affected the child. This also suggests that this theory is less reliable as there is counter evidence in which his theory is compromised.