Attachment Across the Life Cycle: How Relationships Shape Us from Infancy to Older Adulthood


Throughout life, people may experience a varied and complex range of attraction, intimacy, and loss. From intense desire to profound grief, the relationships that people find themselves in—and out of—can consume much of their attention. What is it about connecting to certain others that can hold such power? Why are people drawn to certain relationships and not to others? Do these important relationships affect a person’s development? Pioneered by John Bowlby, attachment theory emphasizes the impact of infant and early childhood attachment on social, emotional, and cognitive development. Attachment theory has become a widely accepted cornerstone of early human development. Current research in human bonding has grown to include key relationships throughout the lifespan. Beginning with attachments established in infancy and early childhood, this course will examine the impact of important relationships through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and older adulthood. We will consider how the fulfillment or deprivation of important relationships may impact development and wellbeing. Landmark discoveries and emerging studies in attachment theory and human bonding will be covered, including relevant aspects of neuropsychological development, autism, adoption, queer families, resilience, spiritual identification, social affiliation, and parenting. Readings will include classical attachment literature, contemporary human-bonding research, developmental psychopathology, feminist critique, identity theory, social psychology, neuropsychology, object relations, and psychoanalytic literature. Film, case studies, and examples from popular media will be included for reflection and class discussion. A one-time observation in the Early Childhood Center (ECC) is required; weekly fieldwork in the ECC is encouraged. Conference work may include observations from the ECC (child or parent-child interactions observed during fieldwork) or observations from other settings such as youth/adolescent programs or older adult community centers.