K. H. Grobman

Teach about Attachment Theory and dramatize how attachment styles become stable with a demonstration of canalization. This version of the demonstration is arranged to help frame big ideas in social psychology class, though I also use this demonstration in developmental psychology.

Attachment Theory & Canalization in a Social Psychology Class

On the last day of class, I pull together diverse examples to illustrate common threads from throughout the semester. I hope to leave students with a cohesive picture of Social Psychology. Here are some examples of our role of construal in shaping the social situation. How do our beliefs impact our reality?

TopicExample of Belief impacting Reality
GroupsGroupThink; biased information-sharing in Group Polarization
Self-ConceptAttributional Style and Self-Esteem
ObedienceMilgram, as long as authority is perceived as legitimate
ConformityPluralistic Ignorance
Social PerceptionPrimacy Effect on first impressions
AttitudesPrior attitude & dual process models
Inter-Group BiasStereotype Threat; Pygmalian Effect; Self-fulfilling Prophecy

What about relationships? Despite the historical significance of Attachment Theory (e.g., refuting Freudian claims; challenging behaviorism), coverage in Social Psychology textbooks is usually limited to the prototypical descriptions by Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) and connections to other aspects of relationships, such as the modes of self-disclosure by each attachment style (Collins & Freeney, 2004; Mashek & Sherman, 2004).

Prototypical Attachment Style Self-Descriptions
Secure: "It is easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don't worry about being alone or having others not accept me."
Insecure-Avoidant: "I am uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others."
Insecure-Anxious: "I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don't value me as much as I value them."
Descriptions given by Kim Bartholomew and Leonard Horowitz (1991).

I recommend enhancing coverage of Attachment Theory in Social Psychology classes with discussion of canalization (Bowlby, 1969). In genetics, canalization is the process by which the same phenotype emerges across different environments because it is difficult to break out of a "canal." Once an internal working model establishes an attachment style, regardless of environmental variations (different relationships), we keep re-affirming our attachment style. To illustrate canalization more concretely, I perform an quick audience-participation play of growth across the lifespan facing each new kind of relationship. The dramatic impression this makes on students is apparent in their faces. While I dramatize the different relationships, I divide the room into fifths from my right to left (students' left to right) and mimic each relationship from that position creating a mental timeline of the lifespan across the classroom.

Bowlby suggested attachment styles remain the same from the formation of an internal working model from early childhood through the lifespan. If an infant is securely attached to his or her parents, the child becomes securely attached to friends, securely attached to girlfriends/boyfriends, securely attached to a spouse, and securely attached to his or her own children.

Canalization is most easily recognized in an insecure attachment style. Let's consider an Anxious-Ambivalent Style. Then repeat the process with the Avoidant attachment style.