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Review of Attachment Theory and Research

New Directions and Emerging Themes

Fogler, Jason MA, PhD

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: November/December 2016 - Volume 37 - Issue 9 - p 701
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000344
Book Reviews
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Division of Developmental Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Disclosure: The author declares no conflict of interest.

Attachment theory and research has come a very long way since Bowlby's seminal papers from the 1970s, the Adult Attachment Interview, and Ainsworth's iconic Strange Situation experiment. Readers seeking a “greatest hits” primer or introductory text on these topics will not find them here, except perhaps as the briefest of nods to early history. Instead, Simpson and Rholes have assembled a rich collection of cutting-edge behavioral genetics, emotional neuroscience, and quantitative psychology research, all in the service of answering questions about the mechanisms and trajectories of attachment. These 15 chapters go far beyond the typologies of secure, anxious, and avoidant that one learns in undergraduate psychology courses, and instead describe, for example, how attachment influences HPA axis activity and how the best-fitting structural equation model relating early attachment to adult relationship functioning is a developmental cascade rather than a linear progression.

This is a book first for brain, mind, and behavior researchers seeking to develop innovative hypotheses, but the intrepid scientist-practitioner and clinician-scholar will find much to appreciate. Examples include Ein-Dor and Doron's chapter describing their transdiagnostic model of attachment as a precursor to externalizing and internalizing disorders; Diamond's chapter on the relationship between the stress response and attachment; Karantzas and Simpson's chapter on the application of attachment theory to aged care in conditions such as Alzheimer's Dementia; and Pietromonaco and colleagues' extension of the HPA-attachment relationship into domains reminiscent of research on toxic stress and the Adverse Childhood Experiences study. Mikulincer and Shaver, two of the attachment field's most influential and prolific researchers, offer an inspiring chapter on the topic of “boosting attachment security in adulthood” by priming security-enhancing mental representations.

The attachment field has deep roots in the study of romantic relationships, and 5 of the 15 chapters address this topic from a variety of perspectives. To say the least, their applicability to developmental-behavioral pediatric practice may not be readily apparent. Deeper reading, however, will prove fruitful, especially Zayas, Merrill, and Hazan's chapter on how the seeking of sexual partners seems to be mediated by the dopaminergic reward system (thinking of our adolescent patients with vattention deficit hyperactivity disorder), whereas oxytocin and endogenous opioids mediate whether sexual encounters and other types of social interaction will also lead to deep and enduring relational bonds (thinking, perhaps, of our patients with autism spectrum disorder). With its life-span perspective, this book can help to answer questions about how our neurodevelopmentally challenged pediatric patients might grow up and relate to future life partners.

Less compelling for this reviewer, and for readers seeking to enrich their clinical practice, were 2 theoretical chapters on the application of attachment research, as it has been traditionally performed in the Adult Attachment Interview, to understanding parenting style and performance in organizational settings. That said, the pure academic psychology researcher will admire these chapters' excellent writing and thorough exploration of themes and supporting evidence.

Attachment Theory and Research: New Directions and Emerging Themes is a “must-read” for academic psychologists and neuroscientists at all stages of training, but clinicians working with patients with neurodevelopmental, trauma and stressor related, and personality disorders will also find some “hidden gems” to aid them in their work.

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