Bowlbian Attachment Theory for People On the Go—Loose Ends

Share this Blog post

I’m still working on the next part in this series. I should have it out soon. In the mean time I just wanted to tie up a couple of loose ends from my last post.

In my last post I mentioned that attachment could be looked at as a behavioral system like other behavioral systems we know: food, water, shelter, and even sex. What I forgot to mention is that arguably one of John Bowlby’s great achievements has to be his success in raising attachment to the level of a behavioral system. Before Bowlby’s work, most psychoanalysts believed that the main reason infants attach to their mothers is because mothers provide food and nourishment. In essence, attachment was looked at using the lens of the food behavioral system. In psychoanalytic terms, the infant is said to be expressing a secondary drive when he or she focuses on mother as a provider of food. Psychoanalysts did not focus much attention on secondary drive systems. Bowlby’s work was key in showing that infants attach to their mothers for primary behavioral reasons that do not necessarily involve food. Sucking at the mother’s breast for non-nutritional reasons would be just one example. So, we cannot overlook the fact that Bowlby almost single-handedly raised attachment to the level of a behavioral system where it could receive the respect and scientific interest it so richly deserves.

After my last post a colleague asked if there was any data supporting the idea I put forward that we have an innate disgust if you will of attempts to bring inanimate objects to life. I answered using two words: uncanny valley. What the heck is an uncanny valley? This is a problem that has plagued film animators for quite some time now. Wikipedia defines uncanny valley thus:

In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is a hypothesized relationship between the degree of an object’s resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to such an object. The concept of the uncanny valley suggests humanoid objects which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit uncanny, or strangely familiar, feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers.

For those of you who enjoy the TV show Elementary, a recent episode (Season 6, episode 7) is entitled Uncanny Valley of the Dolls. The uncanny valley was a subplot of the episode and, yes, Sherlock gives a rather pithy definition of the phenomenon. Give it a look. Simply, as long as animations stay far enough away from us that we can easily determine and maintain the object/subject boundary, then all is good. Once that boundary becomes blurred, it creates unease even revulsion. My take: I think when animations become nearly-real, it reminds us of death, as if we are looking at a body in a coffin that is made-up to look real, but isn’t. I think wax figures can get us to the uncanny valley.

I’ll be back with part II of this series a soon as I can.