An ethological approach to personality development

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roc1989 APA Award Recipient Addresses

An Ethological Approach to Personality Development
Mary D. Salter Ainsworth John Bowlby

University of Virginia Tavistock Clinic, London, England

This is a historical account of the partnership in which Bowlby and Ainsworth participated to develop attachment theory and research. Beginning with their separate approaches to understandingpersonality development before Ainsworth joined Bowlby " research team at the Tavistock s Clinic in London for 4 years, it describes the origins of the ethological approach that they adopted. After Ainsworth left London, her research in Uganda and in Baltimore lent empirical support to Bowlby's theoretical constructions. The article shows how their contributions to attachment theory and researchinterdigitated in a partnership that enduredfor 40 years across time and distance.
The distinguishing characteristic of the theory of attachment that we have jointly developed is that it is an ethological approach to personality development. We have had a long and happy partnership in pursuing this approach. In this article we wish to give a brief historical account of the initially separate butcompatible approaches that eventually merged in the partnership, and how our contributions have intertwined in the course of developing an ethologically oriented theory of attachment and a body of research that has both stemmed from the theory and served to extend and elaborate it.

Before 1950
Even before beginning graduate training, each of us became keenly interested in personality development andthe key role played in it by the early interaction between children and parents. In Bowlby's case this was kindled by volunteer work in a residential school for maladjusted children, which followed his undergraduate studies in medicine at Cambridge University. Two children especially impressed him. One was an isolated, affectionless adolescent who had never experienced a stable relationship with amother figure, and the other was an anxious child who followed Bowlby around like a shadow. Largely because of these two children, Bowlby resolved to continue his medical studies toward a specialty in child psychiatry and psychotherapy, and was accepted as a student for psychoanalytic training. From early in his training he believed that analysts, in their preoccupation with a child's fantasy life,were paying too little attention to actual events in the child's real life. His experience at the April 1991 • American Psychologist
Copyright1991bythe AmericanPsychological Association,Inc.0003-066X/91/$2.00 Vol.46, No. 4, 333-341

London Child Guidance Clinic convinced him of the significant role played by interaction with parents in the development of a child's personality, and of the waysin which this interaction had been influenced by a parent's early experiences with his or her own parents. His first systematic research was begun also at the London Child Guidance Clinic, where he compared 44 juvenile thieves with a matched control group and found that prolonged experiences of mother-child separation or deprivation of maternal care were much more common among the thieves than inthe control group, and that such experiences were especially linked to children diagnosed as affectionless (Bowlby, 1944). The outbreak of war in 1939 interrupted Bowlby's career as a child psychiatrist but brought him useful research experience in connection with officer selection and with a new group of congenial associates, some of whom at the end of the war joined together to reorganize theTavistock Clinic. Soon afterward the clinic became part of the National Health Service, and Bowlby served as full-time consultant psychiatrist and director of the Department for Children and Parents. There he also picked up the threads of his clinical and research interests. Unfortunately, the Kleinian orientation of several members of the staff made it difficult to use clinic cases for the kind...