Implications of attachment theory for developmental psychopathology

L. Alan Sroufe*, Elizabeth A. Carlson, Alissa K. Levy, Byron Egeland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

446 Scopus citations


Bowlby's attachment theory is a theory of psychopathology as well as a theory of normal development. It contains clear and specific propositions regarding the role of early experience in developmental psychopathology, the importance of ongoing context, and the nature of the developmental process underlying pathology. In particular, Bowlby argued that adaptation is always the joint product of developmental history and current circumstances (never either alone). Early experience does not cause later pathology in a linear way; yet, it has special significance due to the complex, systemic, transactional nature of development. Prior history is part of current context, playing a role in selection, engagement, and interpretation of subsequent experience and in the use of available environmental supports. Finally, except in very extreme cases, early anxious attachment is not viewed as psychopathology itself or as a direct cause of psychopathology but as an initiator of pathways probabilistically associated with later pathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopment and psychopathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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