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Psychobiological Roots of Early Attachment

by Myron A. Hofer
Current Directions in Psychological Science ()


New laboratory research has revealed a network of simple behavioral, physiological, and neural processes that underlie the psychological constructs of attachment theory. It has become apparent that the unique features of early infant attachment reflect certain unique features of early infant sensory and motor integration, learning, communication, and motivation, as well as the regulation of biobehavioral systems by the mother–infant interaction. In this article, I will use this new knowledge to answer three major questions that have remained unsettled in our understanding of early human attachment: What creates an attachment bond? Why is early maternal separation stressful? How can early relationships have lasting effects? I will discuss the implications of these new answers for human infants and for the development of mental processes. Attachment remains useful as a concept that, like hunger, describes the operation of subprocesses that work together within the frame of a vital biological function.

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