Attachment and Bonding: A New Synthesis

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Attachment and Bonding: A New SynthesisCarter, C. Sue, Ahnert, Lieselotte, Grossmann, Klaus E., Hrdy, Sarah B., Lamb, Michael E., Porgers, Stephen W., and Sachser, Norbert (Eds) (2006) Cambridge: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-263-03348-8. xiv + 493 pp. $50.00.This book is a compilation of papers delivered at the 92nd Dahlem Workshop (held in Berlin, September 28–October 3, 2003), which explored the concepts of attachment and bonding from scientific perspectives. The participating scientists came from the disciplines of anthropology, psychology, psychiatry, and behavioral biology, and their presentations demonstrate an in-depth mastery of their topics. For the informed but nonexpert reader, the book chapters are a very dense read, moving into highly discipline-specific terminology rather quickly, which makes it hard to sustain interest. A reader who is immersed in these lines of inquiry would find it a valuable and stimulating collection of papers.Hrdy, an anthropologist, offers an interesting discussion of “cooperative breeding” and its place in the evolutionary context of human development. Her identity as an anthropologist is revealed in one of her final questions, “Are humans really different from other apes in this respect?”Porges tries to reconcile the conceptual divide between animal neurophysiological models and human clinical observation. In examining the role of social engagement in attachment and bonding, he introduces the Polyvagal Theory and hypothesizes that creating states of calmness may lead to neural regulation of the social engagement system. His intervention program focuses on biologically based behaviors that trigger the neural substrate required for social engagement.A particularly interesting and readable chapter was written by C. Trevarthen, a psychologist. The discussion of intersubjectivity between infant and mother and the notion that the mother is more than a “secure home base” lays the foundation of the ideas of sympathetic communication and the emotions of learning. This chapter addresses higher-level interaction and the importance of mutual attention and sympathetic mirroring of the dimensions of movement and contours.Rather than continue reviewing chapter by chapter, we can summarize by saying that each chapter packs a potent combination of empirical research and theory into a concise exploration of different subthemes of the larger theme of attachment and body. Each author displays expertise and a stimulating perspective. Biological perspectives, including brain development and neuroendocrinology, evolutionary perspectives, the impact of life experience, and neural plasticity follow one another in rapid succession.A thoughtful examination of intergenerational transmission of attachment challenges common assumptions. Belsky reviews the current debates in the field of developmental and evolutionary psychology, specifically questioning the validity of the evolutionary model of attachment organization when considering the shifting context of social ecology across the generations. The examination of experiential versus genetic pathways for generational transmission is reviewed with an eye to the contextual features that promote optimal attachment security. Early attachment and late-life bonding both find a place in this book. Normal processes and early severe deprivation are examined. The origins of bonding and attachment security are explored with specific attention to child temperament, early life experiences, and why some children are more affected by the quality of caregiver sensitivity. The interaction between child and caregiver sensitivity is identified as an essential entry point for the therapeutic process. A review of early intervention programs that focus on enhancing parental sensitivity highlights the importance of targeted therapeutic interventions for at-risk populations. The book provides an exhaustive overview of the contextual features that promote bonding, including diverse nonfamilial and nontraditional childcare environments that can encourage attachment security.

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