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Attachment as an Organizational Construct

L. Alan Sroufe and Everett Waters
Child Development
Vol. 48, No. 4 (Dec., 1977), pp. 1184-1199
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1128475
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1128475
Page Count: 16
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Attachment as an Organizational Construct
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Abstract

Developmentalists have often conceptualized infant-adult ties in terms of an implicit trait construct evolved from the study of dependency. The major dimension of individual differences has been conceptualized in terms of quantitative differences in the "strength" of attachments, and a variety of discrete behaviors (touch, look, smile, approach, cling, cry) have been assumed to be valid "indices" of this dimension. These behaviors have been assumed to be significantly intercorrelated and stable across situations and over time. Critics have argued strongly that these assumptions cannot be defended empirically. It has further been argued that the study of individual differences in infant-adult ties is unlikely to be a productive research strategy and that attachment (as implying anything more than infant-adult interaction) has outlived its usefulness as a developmental construct. When, however, trait models are abandoned and greater attention is paid to the functions, outcomes, and context sensitivity of attachment behavior and to the underlying behavioral control systems that organize it, the apparent conflict between situational influences and stable individual differences can be resolved. The study of changes in the organization of behavior during development provides a framework for productive individual differences research. When greater emphasis is placed on the organization of behavior, both the stability and the flexibility of attachment behavior can be comprehended, and the attachment construct can continue to play an important integrative role in developmental theory.

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