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John Bowlby , in full John Mostyn Bowlby , born February 26, , London , England—died September 2, , Isle of Skye , Scotland , British developmental psychologist and psychiatrist best known as the originator of attachment theory , which posits an innate need in very young children to develop a close emotional bond with a caregiver. Bowlby explored the behavioral and psychological consequences of both strong and weak emotional bonds between mothers and their young children.

Bowlby grew up in an upper-middle-class family in London. His father, a leading surgeon, was often absent. He was cared for primarily by a nanny and nursemaids and did not spend much time with his mother, as was the custom at that time among his class. In , he and his brother were sent to Lindisfarne, a boarding school. In he entered the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, where he trained to be a naval officer. He eventually decided to study medicine at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he enrolled in After two years he changed his focus to psychology , and he graduated in After graduating, Bowlby then spent a year as a volunteer teacher at two schools for children with behavioral difficulties, Bedales and Priory Gate.

He started training in adult psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in London after his medical qualification. From to , Bowlby worked as a psychiatrist at the London Child Guidance Clinic, a school for maladjusted children.

In , he joined the staff of the Tavistock Institute in London, where he established a research unit to examine the effects on young children of separation from their primary caregivers. It was at Tavistock that he developed attachment theory, one tenet of which is that very young children who fail to develop close emotional bonds with a caregiver will experience behavioral problems in later life.

Bowlby laid out his more fully developed theory in his well-known three-volume work Attachment and Loss — John Bowlby. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. Written By: Suzan van Dijken.

See Article History. Get exclusive access to content from our First Edition with your subscription. Subscribe today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Developed by the British psychologist…. Psychiatry , the science and practice of diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental disorders. Mary Salter Ainsworth , American Canadian developmental psychologist known for her contributions to attachment theory.

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A Review of General Psychology survey, published in , ranked Bowlby as the 49th most cited psychologist of the 20th century. Bowlby was born in London to an upper-middle-income family. He was the fourth of six children and was brought up by a nanny in the British fashion of his class at that time: the family hired a nanny who was in charge of raising the children, in a separate nursery in the house. Bowlby was raised primarily by nursemaid Minnie who acted as a mother figure to him and his siblings. His father, Sir Anthony Alfred Bowlby , was surgeon to the King's Household , with a history of early loss: at age five, Anthony's father, Thomas William Bowlby , was killed while serving as a war correspondent in the Second Opium War. Bowlby's parents met at a party in through a mutual friend.


John Bowlby






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