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Multidimensional Approach to Human Development Versus Attachment Theory

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Multidimensional Approach to Human Development
  3. Attachment theory
  4. Conclusion


The purpose of this study is to review relevant literature surrounding the topic of John Bowlby’s Attachment theory. Firstly we will be highlighting the key principles of Louise Harms Multidimensional approach to human development and how an individuals inner and outer worlds are interconnected, followed by an examination of what Bowlby’s Attachment theory is and how it is used in practice. With the use of pertinent research we will explore Attachment theories strengths in understanding an individuals behaviours from early childhood to adulthood, while also recognising its limitations as well as the gaps in research in regard to culture and non-nuclear families.

Multidimensional Approach to Human Development

To understand Harm’s multidimensional framework, we need to first understand that an individuals experience is influenced simultaneously and continuously by their individual an environmental factors (Harms, L. 2010). These factors can also be called an individuals inner and outer worlds and are comprised of several different dimensions with all of them being interconnected and influenced by each other. Our inner world is inhabited uniquely, which is to say no other individual can experience the same experiences, this world is comprised of three dimensions. The biological dimension encompasses the basic processes required for our body to function and these systems develop and change over time as we mature or as a result of outer world environmental stressors, social interactions and diet, again highlighting the fact our worlds are connected and effected by one another (Harms, L. 2010). Our dreams, primary drives and motivations as well as our capacity for thought, memory and emotion all occur within our Psychological dimension. This effects our feelings, moods and how we understand the world and how we innately act within it or adapt to fit (Harms, L. 2010). The final inner world dimension is the spiritual, this dimension is different to the religious sense. It is where we do our deepest searching within trying to understand purpose in our own existence and our sense of having a place in the world. Often this search for meaning beyond ourselves begins following exposure to trauma or other adverse effects in an individuals life (Harms, L. 2010). Individuals outer worlds consists of the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem and the macrosystem. The microsystem or relational system comprises of an individuals close interpersonal relationships, this includes places they work and live, to analyse this setting, we are looking at who they interact with face to face and how (Harms, L. 2010). Looking at a larger scale, the mesosystem also referred to as the social dimension takes a look at the different settings themselves and the links between them, for example an individuals schooling institution and their workplace. It is important to note the effects of a persons exosystem or structural dimension, an individual does not have face-to-face contact with this dimension, but it does in fact shape ones experiences, social context and interpersonal relationships. Included in this setting is legal systems and political systems as well as educational and health systems (Harms, L. 2010). When examining a persons macrosystem, we are taking a look at how culture defines what is normal or socially acceptable for that time and place, this cultural context in where we are situated correlates directly with how an individual will view things such as gender roles, religious beliefs, sexuality and ethnicity (Harms, L. 2010). With this knowledge, when we attempt to understand an individual, what is taking place in their lives and how to assist them overcoming any kinds of adversity, it is extremely important to understand the impact of each of these above-discussed dimensions on the individual themselves and also upon each other respective dimension. Harms (2010) states, that we are encouraged to think of things from not just an introspective point, but to think more broadly in terms of the influence of social and political environment. Using this multidimensional framework, we will now look at John Bowlbys’ theory of attachment which was later expanded upon by Mary Ainsworth, exploring how it informs our understanding of human development.

Attachment theory

Attachment theory takes a biosocial look at how close relationships form between a primary caregiver and child, how these relationships are maintained and how they influence the individuals involved in them (Rholes, W. S., & Simpson, J. A. (Eds.). (2014).). John Bowlby’s early work showed that intense feelings of pain, withdrawal, apathy and despair were experienced in adults as well as children who were separated or bereaved. It has been shown that this can have serious long term effects on individuals such as difficulty forming bonds and relationships and even the development of mental health issues in adulthood (Holmes, J. (2014)). The basis of attachment theory is that it is essential for a child to develop a close relationship with their primary care giver in order for both social and emotional development to occur conventionally (Becnel, K. (2012). Standardly, infants become attached to those who are consistently responsive in social interactions and sensitive to the infants needs. During stressful situations, an infant will seek the proximity of their care giver for comfort and emotional regulation while in later years of childhood this caregiver will be used as a “secure base” that the child can go off and explore their world from and return to when in need. The parental response during these stages typically leads to patterns of attachment; which begin the formation of an individuals internal working model informing their expectations of relationships later in life as well as their feelings and thoughts (Becnel, K. (2012)). There are four different types of attachment styles; Secure, Avoidant, Disorganised and Ambivalent. Typically those who develop a secure attachment receive readily available helpful, responsible and sensitive care from their primary care giver as a child; whereas infants who experience varying degrees of separation, rejection or inconsistency in parental responses will develop either an avoidant, ambivalent or disorganised attachment style of attachment (Rholes, W. S., & Simpson, J. A. (Eds.). (2014).

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It is important that we practice using a multidimensional framework approach by understanding how attachment theory informs us of human development and behaviour. Attachment theory has the potential to enhance our understanding of an individuals on a micro level, focusing on, or emotional, cognative, physiological behviours, how we form relationships and interact with others interpersonally, be that with a romantic partner, our own children, friends and even collegues at work (Rholes, W. S., & Simpson, J. A. (Eds.). (2014). Studies have shown that we can use attachment theory can be used practically within job design and organisational support (Yip, J., Ehrhardt, K., Black, H., & Walker, D. (2018). We are able to enhance our understanding of behaviours even within this organisational setting by understanding that attachment anxiety and avoidance can assist in predicting how some one will be able to regulate their emotions at work, be it seeking support, their commitment to the organisation and even the intention to quit (Richards, D., & Schat, A. 2011).

When looking at attachment theory through a multidimensional lens there is certainly an area that requires further research and consideration. It is important to look at the different forms of attachment cross-culturally, parenting practices and care giver relationships within non-western societies should be understood in their own culturally meaningful terms (Quinn, N., & Mageo, J. (2013). A study was conducted in North Germany and Japan which highlighted interesting differences within core culturally social values therefore impacting common parenting practices. In Germany, independence is considered important, so caregivers tend to keep larger interpersonal distance and once a child is mobile care givers feel they should lessen close bodily contact, promoting a childs independence (Quinn, N., & Mageo, J. (2013). Japanese culture promotes an emphasis on close physical contact and the desire to avoid stress to infants by keeping them close. Parental figures will sleep with the child, co bathe, hold the child above the toilet to toilet train and transport the child on their back (Quinn, N., & Mageo, J. (2013). Bretherton (1992) states that to better explore such cultural variations in attachment organisation, attachment researchers need to develop ecologically valid, theory-driven measures, tailored to specific cultures and based on a deeper knowledge of parents’ and children’s culture-specific folk theories about family relationships and attachment.- paraphrase this


Overall John Bowlbys theory of attachment helps us to understand the complexities of the human condition from infancy to adulthood. The creation of this theory has greatly contributed to our understanding of human development by examining the development and lasting effects of our relationship with our primary care giver from birth. It takes a psychological, evolutionary and ethological look at relationships between humans. When using a multidimensional approach to human development is important to then note that further research should be conducted in regards to the difference in forms of attachment cross-culturally to gain a greater understanding of how other societies cultural values effect parenting styles and therefore a childs attachment style.

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Multidimensional Approach to Human Development Versus Attachment Theory. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
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