Attachment and the regulation of the right brain

Attach Hum Dev. 2000 Apr;2(1):23-47. doi: 10.1080/146167300361309.


It has been three decades since John Bowlby first presented an over-arching model of early human development in his groundbreaking volume, Attachment. In the present paper I refer back to Bowlby's original charting of the attachment landscape in order to suggest that current research and clinical models need to return to the integration of the psychological and biological underpinnings of the theory. Towards that end, recent contributions from neuroscience are offered to support Bowlby's assertions that attachment is instinctive behavior with a biological function, that emotional processes lie at the foundation of a model of instinctive behavior, and that a biological control system in the brain regulates affectively driven instinctive behavior. This control system can now be identified as the orbitofrontal system and its cortical and subcortical connections. This 'senior executive of the emotional brain' acts as a regulatory system, and is expanded in the right hemisphere, which is dominant in human infancy and centrally involved in inhibitory control. Attachment theory is essentially a regulatory theory, and attachment can be defined as the interactive regulation of biological synchronicity between organisms. This model suggests that future directions of attachment research should focus upon the early-forming psychoneurobiological mechanisms that mediate both adaptive and maladaptive regulatory processes. Such studies will have direct applications to the creation of more effective preventive and treatment methodologies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Object Attachment*