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Attachment Theory: Introduction and Critique


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Michael Mallaghan
  • Assessment: a 1.5-hour examination (60%) and 15-minute presentation (40%)

Module description

This module aims to:

  • outline the history of theories of attachment with particular reference to the Bowlby-Ainsworth ecological theory of attachment
  • show how attachment theory can explain behaviour under conditions of stress and anxiety
  • describe diverse attachment, separation and exploratory behaviours
  • demonstrate the relevance of attachment theory to an understanding of behaviour in close relationships throughout the lifespan
  • examine evidence for transmission of patterns of attachment behaviours across generations
  • critically examine the principle methods used by researchers in the field of attachment
  • explore a number of key debates on the topic of attachment
  • examine the impact of both secure and insecure attachment on the minds and lives of children and adults
  • critically examine popular beliefs about attachment in the light of findings from research
  • critically discuss the current state of theories of attachment and their applications
  • identify ways in which attachment theory might inform better understanding of work and social relationships
  • explore ways in which attachment theory might be applied to portrayals of intimate relationships in film, literature, etc
  • encourage the development of students’ own observational skills
  • consider what other theories and perspectives might say about relationships and emotional regulation
  • draw on a range of research methods and evaluative their uses within attachment-based research, including their relative advantages and disadvantages
  • highlight the ethical issues involved when conducting research [with particular reference to harm] and the issues that arise when trying to generalise results
  • highlight the criticisms of attachment theory, notably the claims of ethnocentric bias.

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • demonstrate systematic and detailed knowledge of attachment theory
  • explain and use a range of both qualitative and quantitative methodologies and findings to analysis the main claims of attachment theory
  • draw on a range of research methods that are appropriate to the study of this area of psychology, to devise and sustain arguments concerning the relative strengths and weaknesses of attachment theory
  • describe and evaluate current research and theories concerning emotional regulation and interpersonal relationships
  • demonstrate an understanding of the problems and issues associated with researching and understanding relationships and emotional connections
  • plan and present a piece of research designed to investigate attachment
  • critically discuss the ethical issues when conducting research in this area (with particular consideration of harm)
  • demonstrate an appropriate awareness of cultural considerations in the critical evaluation of theory and research
  • locate and use a range of academic sources and further information about current research and debates
  • demonstrate the ability to think critically about research findings and key conceptual issues in this often controversial field of enquiry
  • critically discuss popular beliefs, applications and misconceptions about attachment
  • critically evaluate the assumptions of attachment theory and identify associated problems and potential solutions
  • evaluate the ways in which attachment theory might increase understanding of the emotional development both of young children and of individuals throughout the lifespan
  • explain the ways in which your knowledge of attachment theory might increase your understanding of human behaviour in close relationships
  • evaluate and explain the extent to which attachment theory can explain behaviour in social relationships (both at work, in education and in more intimate settings) and identify associated weaknesses and identify potential solutions
  • apply theories and research to explain clinical and non-clinical problems associated with early childhood and adult interpersonal relationships
  • explain the strengths and weaknesses of attachment theory to both specialists and non-specialist audiences
  • demonstrate the ability to make suggestions of the professional and practical applications of attachment theory, including potential problems.