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When, at sixteen, Ainsworth then Mary Salter entered the University of Toronto, in , she quickly found that her first mentor, William Blatz, had his own ideas about relatedness. Ainsworth recalls Toronto's psychology department as being imbued with a messianic feeling, one that she quickly came to share, and retains to this day: that the science of psychology could be used to improve the quality of human life fundamentally. She became a psychology major, did her doctoral dissertation on Blatz's security theory, and in became a lecturer at the university, before doing a three year stint as an army major in charge of personnel selection during the Second World War.

In she returned to the University of Toronto, where she and Blatz co-directed a team studying security in various aspects of adult life. She also began training as a diagnostician during those years, and later co-authored a volume on ink blot technique with Bruno Klopfer, the leading Rorschach interpreter of the day.

Blessed with a quick mind and a keen eye, the young psychologist was a brilliant and eager researcher. But she had neither the hunger nor the disposition of a scientist on the make. Although intellectually tough, interpersonally she was often softer. In , when she married Len Ainsworth, who was younger than she and had recently completed his masters degree in psychology, she readily dropped her work in favor of his education.

He got admitted to University College, London, and I went along. If Ainsworth did not have destiny writ large in her features, the man who placed the help-wanted ad that she answered in the London Times did. Bowlby had opinions, determination, and presence. Ainsworth's four years with him and his small team would alter the course of her career.

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She was taken not only with his ideas but also with his formidable and secure personality. It was a long time before I felt any sense of getting close to him or being a friend. But I had no difficulty whatsoever making him into a surrogate father figure—even though he's not much older than I. During that first interview Ainsworth and Bowlby discovered that their interests coincided to a remarkable degree. It was the beginning of a professional marriage that would prove as fruitful and enduring as any in the history of psychology.

Seven years her senior, John Bowlby already made a name for himself with the publication of Forty-Four Juvenile Thieves , which noted the high proportion of delinquent boys who had suffered early maternal separations. He was now at work on a report to the World Health Organization on the mental health of homeless children, who were a big problem in the postwar years. Published in , Maternal Care and Mental Health warned against separating children from their mothers—even mothers who were untidy and neglectful.

It asserted that children suffering maternal deprivation are at increased risk for physical and mental illness, and that even a clean, well-meaning, and well-run institution—unless it somehow provided a true maternal substitute—was unlikely to save a small child from being irreversibly damaged by the age of three.

During the late thirties Bowlby was supervised in child treatment by Melanie Klein, a brilliant and original Vienna-born analyst and the inventor of psychoanalytic play therapy, who had won a large following in England after arriving there in One of the first avowed object relations theorists and a giant in the field to this day, Klein is also remembered by some for being eccentric, devious, and nasty.

The very first case in which Klein supervised Bowlby, in the spring of , set the tone. He was anxious, in and out of the room, all over the place. His mother used to bring him, and her job was to sit in the waiting room and take him home again. She was an extremely anxious, distressed woman, who was wringing her hands, in a very tense, unhappy state. But I was forbidden by Melanie Klein to talk to this poor woman.

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But Klein was a purist and insisted that he see only the child. After three months the news reached me that the mother had been taken to a mental hospital, which didn't surprise me. And when I came to report this to Melanie Klein, her attitude was What a nuisance—we shall have to find another case. The fact that this poor woman had a breakdown was of no clinical interest to her whatever; it might have been the man in the moon who was bringing this boy.

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So this horrified me, to be quite frank. And from that point onwards, my mission in life was to demonstrate that real life experiences have a very important effect on development. When a goose or a duck is born, it attaches itself to the first moving object it sees. Almost invariably that will be its mother; although if a human scientist elbows his way into view first, the gosling or duckling will become hopelessly attached to him and follow him everywhere. Other instincts can similarly be distorted, or fail to develop at all, depending on what the young animal encounters or fails to encounter in its environment.

We know this and many other facts about the bonding behavior of birds and mammals, thanks to the work of ethologists like Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen.


He immediately sensed that human beings, too, must have such bonding behaviors and intergenerational cues, that they, too, must be predisposed toward some sort of relational experience, and that with them, too, nature's intentions could go awry—as they obviously had with that hyperactive boy—if the environment failed them.

We were fumbling around in the dark; they were already in brilliant sunshine.

1. Introduction

In addition to suggesting improved strategies of investigation, ethology gave Bowlby an explanation: separations from the mother are disastrous developmentally because they thwart an instinctual need. Bowlby soon declared that clinging, sucking, and following are all part of the child's instinctual repertoire, and that the goal of these behaviors is precisely to keep the mother close by.

And he abandoned the Freudian notion of drives, arising out of hidden forces like libido and aggression, which accumulate within us and crave discharge. Instead, Bowlby saw an array of innate behavior patterns—relationship-seeking patterns like smiling, babbling, looking, and listening—that are enriched and developed by the responses they call forth from the environment.

Bowlby proceeded to define a series of developmental stages based on the maternal bond. Such actions are instinctual and rooted in the biological fact that proximity to one's mother is satisfying, because it is essential to survival. The establishment, maintenance, and renewal of that proximity begets feelings of love, security, and joy. A lasting or untimely disruption brings on anxiety, grief, and depression.

Both Melanie Klein and Anna Freud, the rival doyennes of British psychoanalysis, found the analytic-ethological concoction Bowlby was brewing distasteful, and they let their followers know it. Analytic critics charged him with, among other things, gross simplification of psychological theory; assuming that all pathology results from disturbances of the infant mother bond when it was well known that early medical and environmental traumas could equally be at fault ; and overlooking the infant's ability to develop a negative concept of his mother on wholly irrational grounds—such as a failure to relieve his suffering despite her best efforts, or the arrival of a new sibling, which can bring forth intolerable feelings of abandonment, rage, and guilt.

The debate was bitter, even though the participants were largely in the same camp, all of them psychoanalysts who accepted basic analytic principles. Bowlby did find some fellow analysts at least cordial to his views. Most closely kindred was D. Winnicott, a pediatrician turned psychoanalyst who had attained great stature as a theorist and was also the British equivalent of Dr. Winnicott, too, had taken strong positions, some of them pre-dating Bowlby's, on both the centrality of the infant-mother bond and the critical importance of the quality of mothering.

His ideological proximity, although expressed in different language, gave Bowlby some comfort during this time. But regardless of whether Bowlby's radical restructuring of psychoanalytic concepts was correct, he had plainly found a hole in analytic theory. For however closely attuned psychoanalysts had become in their practices to the impact of real-life events and the ways in which parenting styles affect personality, their theories did not reflect it.

In their writings psychoanalysts still focused mainly on the individual psyche and the workings of the unconscious in the average expectable environment. That was a big gap, and Bowlby was determined to fill it. Ainsworth's responsibility in Bowlby's unit was to analyze and make sense of an enormous quantity of data that his people had collected, and to determine the direction for future research. One of those whose material she reviewed was James Robertson, a social worker who died recently, at the age of seventy-seven. Robertson had been making detailed observations of young children who were being sent to the hospital, where, in the early s, parents were allowed only very limited visits.

Robertson's skillful observations captured the inconsolable agony and despair these separations created.

When psychiatric experts insisted that no such trauma could have occurred, Robertson was infuriated. He decided to buy a camera and film the thing. His harrowing documentary, A Two Year Old Goes to Hospital , about little Laura's eight-day separation from her parents, was influential in changing hospital practice to allow parents to make routine visits and to stay the night with their hospitalized children.

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And I made up my mind that whenever I went elsewhere and could start a project, it would be a study of this sort—direct observation in the natural environment—and that is what I did in Uganda. In , Ainsworth followed her husband to Uganda, where she launched one of the pioneering studies in modern infant research.

With no lab, with meager institutional support, with no help in collecting or analyzing the data, accompanied only by her interpreter, she rounded up twenty-eight unweaned babies from several villages near Kampala and began observing them in their homes, using the careful, naturalistic techniques that Lorenz and Tinbergen had applied to goslings and stickleback fish.