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John Bowlby Biography(1907-1990)

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  • attachment theory
  • john bowlby
  • mary ainsworth

John Bowlby Is Best Known For:


February 27, 1907


September 2, 1990

Bowlby?s Early Life:

John Bowlby was born in London to an upper-middle class family. Believing that too much parental affection and attention would spoil a child, his parents spent only a small amount of time with him each day. At the age of seven he was sent to boarding school, which he would later describe as a traumatic experience.

Bowlby went on to attend Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied psychology and spent time working with delinquent children. He then studied medicine at University College Hospital, and then psychiatry at Maudsley Hospital.

After becoming a psychoanalyst in 1937, he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War II. In 1938, he married a woman named Ursula Longstaff and together they had four children. Once the war was over, Bowlby became Director of the Tavistock Clinic and in 1950 he became a mental health consultant to the World Health Organization.

Bowlby?s Career:

Bowlby?s early work with children led him to develop a strong interest in the subject of child development. He became particularly interested in how separation from caregivers impacted children. After studying the subject for some time, he began to develop his ideas on the importance of attachment on child development.

In 1949, the World Health Organization commissioned Bowlby to write a report on the mental health of homeless children in Europe. In 1951, the resulting work Maternal Care and Mental Health was published in which he wrote ??the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.?

After the publication of the influential report, Bowlby continued to develop his attachment theory. Drawing on a variety of subjects including cognitive science, developmental psychology and evolutionary biology, he created his theory which suggested that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. According to Bowlby, attachment also serves to keep the infant close to the mother, thus improving the child's chances of survival.

The central theme of attachment theory is that mothers who are available and responsive to their infant's needs establish a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world.

Contributions to Psychology:

John Bowlby?s research on attachment and child development left a lasting impression on psychology, education, child care and parenting. Researchers extended his research to develop clinical treatment techniques and prevention strategies. His work also influenced other eminent psychologists, including his colleague Mary Ainsworth, who also made major contributions to attachment theory.

Selected Publications by John Bowlby:

Bowlby, J. (1946). Maternal Care and Mental Health. Geneva: World Health Organization.

Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child's tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 1-23.

Bowlby, J. (1968). Attachment and Loss, Vol. 1: Attachment. New York: Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and Loss, Vol. 2: Separation, Anxiety, and Anger. London: Penguin Books.

Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and Loss, Vol. 3: Loss: Sadness and Depression. New York:Basic Books.


Bretheron, I. (1992). The origins of attachment theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.Developmental Psychology, 28, 759-775.

Holmes, J. (1993). John Bowlby and Attachment Theory. London: Routledge.

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