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The emergence of the disorganized/disoriented (D) attachment classification, 1979–1982

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This article examines the emergence of the concept of infant disorganized/disoriented attachment, drawing on published and archival texts and interviews. Since this new classification was put forward by Main and Solomon (1986), “disorganized/disoriented attachment” has become an important concept in clinical and social intervention contexts. Yet whereas Main and Solomon have often been misunderstood to have introduced disorganized/disoriented attachment in order to produce an exhaustive, categorical system of infant classifications, this article will suggest quite a different account. Attention will be paid to the emergence of disorganized attachment as a classification out of results and reflections in the late 1970s regarding the limits of an alarmed infant’s capacities for maintaining behavioral and attentional avoidance. In contrasting this interpretation of Main and Solomon’s work with current, widespread misunderstandings, the article will critically examine tendencies that have supported the reification and misapplication of the concept of disorganized/disoriented attachment.



attachment, anomaly, classification, developmental psychology, Ainsworth Strange Situation Procedure

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History of Psychology

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American Psychological Association
Wellcome Trust (103343/Z/13/A)
This research was made possible by a Medical Humanities Investigator Award from the Wellcome Trust (Grant WT103343MA).