This critical appraisal of contemporary interpretations in the area of infantile attachment begins with an outline of the principal features of the Bowlby-Ainsworth ethological theory, the instrumental/operant learning theory of Gewirtz, and Hoffman's classical conditioning model. Some attention is also given to Cairns's contiguity learning analysis and the Hoffman-Solomon opponentprocess model Discussion of these theories is followed by a review of representative data from infants at four phyletic levels (precocial birds, dogs, monkeys, and human beings), with an emphasis on three aspects of social bonding: (a) the formation and persistence of social ties in the infant under conditions of maltreatment, (b) the role of the attachment object in the adjustment of the infant to the broader environment (the so-called secure base effect), and (c) the infant's reaction to involuntary separation from the attachment object.
An attempt is made to judge how well each of the interpretations accounts for all or part of the data, with the conclusion that current theories do not accord completely with documented attachment phenomena. The following criticisms are highlighted: Ethological theory emphasizes that infants' behavior systems have been shaped by the ordinarily expectable environment and depend on that environment for their functioning, yet infants of many species form bonds to objects not typical in any species' environment, or even to sources of maltreatment. Learning theory is faulted for making predictions contradicted by the maltreatment data and for a lack of formal mechanisms to account for the secure base and separation effects. The contiguity analysis is criticized for its inability to account for the emergence of certain response patterns during separation, and the opponent-process model is called into question because of its failure to fit important affective dynamics of social separation (a central focus of this theory). Recommendations for future theories of attachment are offered.