Still Face Experiment


In the last blog, I mentioned that all of these attachment related posts were going to build on each other. So, if you didn’t read the previous one CLICK HERE to get caught up. At the very least, you can skim to the bottom and get the most important info from that post. 

 AND NOW… part two

In the previous post I gave a very brief historical rundown of attachment theory.  The main reason behind that was to illustrate how the understanding of attachment had begun to shift from something that was a learned behavior, to a theory that it was a biological drive to seek and maintain closeness and comfort with important figures in our lives. Through observation at orphanages, Harlow’s work with the rhesus monkeys, the “Strange Situation” experiment, and many others, researchers began to see how being separated from one’s attachment figures had a dramatic negative impact on a child’s physical and psychological development. More recent advances in neuroscience and epigenetics produce similar findings and are able to show how aspects of our physiology actually fail to develop properly when we aren’t able to create emotional bonds with a nurturing other. The American Journal of Psychiatry, on reporting about the neurological impact of childhood neglect, stated: “The longer deprived infants go without intervention, the more difficult it can become for their development to advance in many areas—such as cognitive functioning, language acquisition, and social behavior.” 

Again, all of this is to drive home the importance of understanding that our need to connect with others is hardwired into our basic existence. It’s pretty much a matter of life and death. If we aren’t able to form bonds, we do not thrive.  

Okay, so maybe you’re saying to yourself, “But, I didn’t grow up in isolation, and I certainly was not raised by a wire monkey with a bottle.” Right. But even if you had people constantly around you, were they consistent, nurturing, safe and secure attachment figures? Without putting blame or judgment on your family (we’re all doing the best we can with what we know at the time), can you just objectively take look at your experiences with your caregivers? 

Were your parents responsive to your needs, or were they lost in their work? Were finances tight, and stress extremely high? Was a parent battling mental health issues or substance abuse? Did a caregiver have unresolved trauma? Was there abuse in the home? Just because the caregivers were physically present, doesn’t mean that they were necessarily capable of being emotionally present enough to form a secure attachment.Many of our parents didn’t have this in their childhood, and now simply pass down what they learned. Or, say a parent suffers a trauma along the way, they may be having such a hard time regulating their own emotions, it makes it near impossible to consistently regulate and sooth their children in times of distress. This isn’t to point the finger at mothers and fathers, it’s just to highlight the number of things that can get in the way of forming secure emotional bonds. 

I started out the last blog by saying, “To get a better understanding of how adult relationships can go awry, we need to have a look at some of the first relationships we form in life.” Because as we’ve learned, when those relationships go awry it leaves a lasting imprint on our physical and emotional development. Our attachment, be it secure or insecure, dictates how we view ourselves and how we believe others view us.  AND, it impacts the strategies we begin to use to cling to connection or, at the very least, protect ourselves from the pain of disconnection. 

Below is a video of the “Still Face Experiment” with Dr. Edward Tronick. This video highlights just how physically and emotionally painful disconnection from an important attachment figure can be.


Kind of hard to watch, right? When you think of that clip, and watch the protests from the baby as she tries to get any kind of reaction from her mother… does it feel oddly familiar to ways you might have behaved in the face of rejection or disconnection? 

In the next post, I’ll continue the discussion of how your attachment style develops and how that is now showing up in your romantic relationship endeavors.