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Developmental Psychology Theories 101: Childhood Part III


Developmental Psychology Theories 101 articles, as its name states, addresses different theories regarding psychological human development through life-cycle, and provide an approach on how different factors at each development life stage impact the individual's psyché.

Developmental Psychology serves as one of the academic courses in the field of Psychology, and it conceives of a person's development as a combination of maturation and learning. The maturation would come to consist of the biological unfolding according to a plan contained in the genes. On the other hand, learning would be the process through which experiences produce relatively permanent changes in thought, emotions, or behavior.

Therefore, development is a relatively permanent change, a mix between maturation (genes) and learning (experience), and includes:

1. Phylogenetic Development: development of the species.

2. Ontogenetic Development: development of the individual.

Developmental Psychology Theories 101 is the first part of the Developmental Psychology Theories, and it's divided into the following six chapters:

-Developmental Psychology Theories 101: Childhood Part I (Baltes & Smith)

-Developmental Psychology Theories 101: Childhood Part II (Bronfenbrenner)

-Developmental Psychology Theories 101: Childhood Part III (Sroufe)

-Developmental Psychology Theories 101: Childhood Part IV (Gopnik & Wellman)

-Developmental Psychology Theories 101: Childhood Part V (Piaget)

-Developmental Psychology Theories 101: Childhood Part VI (Vygotski)

Each chapter will address one different author and their theory regarding the first stage of life: childhood. This series will have a continuation, Developmental Psychology Theories 102, which will deal with the next life stages: Adolescence, Emerging Adulthood, Middle Adulthood, and Elder Adulthood.

Developmental Psychology Theories 101: Childhood Part III (Sroufe)

In this third article, the theory of Alan Sroufe about Emotional Development (Sroufe, 2000), will be addressed.

Image 1. Alan Sroufe (University of Minnesota, n.d)

Alan Sroufe is a Professor Emeritus of Child Psychology in the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Wisconsin with a clinical internship at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute. Dr. Sroufe is an internationally recognized expert on early attachment relationships, emotional development, and developmental psychopathology, and he has published seven books and 140 articles on these and related topics. His emphasis has been to outline the progressive nature of relationship competence from early childhood to adulthood (University of Minnesota, n.d).

Sroufe's awards include:

The Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Society for Research in Child Development, the Bowlby Ainsworth Award for Contributions to Attachment Research, the G. Stanley Hall Award for Distinguished Scientific Contribution to Developmental Psychology from Division 7 of the American Psychology Association, an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Leiden, and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Education, University of Minnesota. Each summer, since 1986, he has provided training in infant attachment assessment using the Ainsworth Strange Situation Procedure (CeCentral, n.d).

Attachment: the dyadic regulation of emotion.

Image 2. Attachment (Sroufe, 1995).

According to the text, attachment is the special relationship between the baby and the caregiver. It is an emotional construct that, in addition to being an affective bond, regulates the baby's emotions. It is the culmination of the development of the first year of life and in this phase, the baby adopts a more active role in the dyadic relationship, which opens the way to subsequent self-regulation (Sroufe, 2000).

Between 6 and 12 months the baby begins to actively participate in the relationship. Directs specific and intentional communications to said person; here we talk about attachment.

Signs that show the emergence of an attachment relationship:

- Separation anxiety

- “Secure base” behavior: they seek the person who cares for them because they feel safer.

Although this attachment relationship is consolidated between six and twelve months, it is based on the interaction history of the preceding months, and according to this cumulative experience, the child is able to actively seek contact when threatened. Sroufe (2000) states that affective sharing is a core part of the attachment relationship and refers to sharing pleasurable discoveries with the caregiver (communicative pointing or “joint visual attention”).

Bowlby (1958) defined attachment as a dyadic behavior system, not as a quality of the infant. An adequate context is needed for it to develop and the adult must be available as an interactive presence. Therefore, it is important to know the difference between the attachment bond and the attachment behaviors since the mere presence of these behaviors cannot “indicate” attachment. For instance, when babies smile. In the same way, it is important to differentiate attachment from the concept of bonding: attachment refers to a dyadic process that evolves and a mutual relationship.

Classification of attachment types (Sroufe, 2000):

GROUP A (ANXIOUS/AVOIDANT INSECURE ATTACHMENT): They separate easily to go play and generally show little caution towards strangers, and they feel bad only if they are left alone. However, as tension increases, avoidance increases. There is some kind of interference in the search for the contact; to get close is to risk disruptive affect (including anger).

Image 3. Anxious/ Avoidant Insecure Attachment (Gudenau, 2021).

GROUP B (SECURE ATTACHMENT RELATIONSHIP): These infants easily separate from their caregivers and become absorbed in play, perhaps sharing discoveries from a distance. They may or may not be distressed by separations; if they are not distressed, their game is often despondent; if they become distressed, instead, they go directly to the person when he returns. They can accept the contact of a stranger, but the treatment is qualitatively different.

Securely attached infants exhibit remarkable curiosity, a taste for exploration, and affective expressiveness in social relationships. They are more emotionally independent.

GROUP C (ANXIOUS/RESISTANT INSECURE ATTACHMENT): Poor exploration and wary of strangers. And it is that they are very distressed by separations, the stranger being unable to calm them down. Although they seek contact, in some way, they also resist it and they cannot calm down completely, not even with the person who cares for them.

Image 4. Anxious/ Resistant Insecure Attachment (Natalia Guardian, n.d).

GROUP D (INSECURE ATTACHMENT WITH ANXIETY/DISORGANIZED): There are cases in which the baby shows disorganized behavior patterns or bizarre behaviors such as contempt for the person who cares for him. This would be explained because they have not been able to form coherent strategies because the very behavior of the person who cares for them has been incoherent or threatening. This is the case of children who are abused or whose caregivers carry histories of unresolved trauma, for example.

Following the line of Bowlby (1958), the essential hypotheses of the organizational posture like Sroufe posits, are the following:

1- The differences in the quality of care will lead to differences in the quality of attachment: the child will have expectations of the availability of the person who cares for them and this person will be able to maintain them or regain emotional regulation (Sroufe, 2000).

2- Such differences in attachment will have a profound effect on the subsequent self-regulation of emotion that the baby will carry out: trust in the person who cares for him is transformed into trust in the self with that person and later in self-confidence (Sroufe, 2000).


Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, XXXIX, 1-23.

CeCentral. (n.d). L Alan Sroufe. Retrieved from

Sroufe, A. (2000). Desarrollo Emocional. Oxford University Press. Chapter 10: Attachment: the dyadic regulation of emotion.

University of Minnesota. (n.d). L Sroufe. Retrieved from

Images References:

Image 1: University of Minnesota. (n.d). ICD Professor Emeritus Alan Sroufe publishes his memoir: ‘A Compelling Idea’. Retrieved from

Image 2: Sroufe, A. (1995). Emotional Development. Cambridge Studies.

Image 3: Gudenau, S. (2021). Different Attachment Styles Can Impact Your Relationships [Blog]. Retrieved from

Image 4: Guardian, N. (n.d.) Apego Ansioso. Retrieved from

Cover Picture: Sargent, J. S. (1884). Garden Study of the Vickers Children. Retrieved from:

Author Photo

Dinka Hernández Avilés

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