Developmental Psychology Humor

How does attachment theory work when infants have such limited long-term memory capacity?

Attachment Theory, Infancy, & Infant Memory Development


I was wondering if you could give me any insights on how attachment can occur within newborns given the limited long term memory capacity of infants. Look forward to hearing your thoughts, Doug


Doug asks for any insights into how attachment and long-term memory might work together since infants and adults are so different. Infants actually have pretty decent long term memory. Developmental Psychologists like Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Bauer model playing with toys in particular ways. Months later, the infants are given the toys. Infants play with the toys like the model (at rates above that found with a control group that had no model). This is long-term memory with action-sequences, not words and abstract concepts (like mental models).

Most attachment research today is with the mental models, also called "internal working models", and in this case called "attachment styles." Social psychologists use these styles with adults and are first measurable during later infancy and toddlerhood (see Mary Ainsworth). But this does not mean that all attachments at all times in our lives are understood by us through an abstract model we carry around in our heads about how relationships work. Harry Harlow's classic research with non-human primates (wire 'mothers' with milk bottles versus cloth 'mothers') demonstrated attachment through contact comfort, that feeling of emotional support we get from being physically touched. John Bowlby (1969) noted that human infants start with similar attachments as other primates, but move toward mental models. Here's a brief summary of his stages with rough ages:

Shifts in long-term memory parallel shifts in attachment and both are tied to language development. If you're looking for a light read about attachment theory and many other major studies in developmental psychology, I recommend Wallace Dixon's "Twenty Studies that Revolutionized Child Psychology." Hope this helps!