Attachment and information processing are inherently interwoven. Information processing is what the body’s neural systems do. Everything in the world presents information. A dog, a law suit, conflict, loneliness, and rejection are all examples of things that present information. What a neural system does with the information, how it processes the information, varies from person to person (and situation to situation). Attachment theorists, starting with John Bowlby, realized that childhood experience fundamentally impacts how people tend to process information, and the ABC patterns of attachment theory describe different Patterns of Information Processing (PIP).
Early in Dr. Patricia Crittenden’s career studying attachment theory, she described (in the article cited below) a simplified four stage structure of information processing and wrote an article applying it to help understand more precisely why some parents neglect their children. Upon being presented with a signal from their child (information), a parent will have the opportunity to:
- Perceive the information, or not;
- Interpret the information in some way, or not;
- Select some sort of response, or not; and
- Implement some sort of behavior, or not.
In other words, a parent’s information processing of a child’s need may fail or produce an ineffective response for a number of reasons – and not just because of emotions, thoughts, or behavioral choices. Clients can go through the same process. The information processing perspective can help professionals more effectively target what the parent or client may need to address and change. Attachment theory helps elucidate the different ways that failures tend to happen, such as by favoring a self or other perspective.
John Bowlby, one of the primary developers of attachment theory, wrote that information processing was largely conducted below the level of consciousness. In Attachment and Loss, Volume 3, chapter 4 (1980), Bowlby said that all pyschoanalytic defenses are a function of defensive exclusion of information (P. 64), and common defenses that mitigate the pain of loss include repression, splitting, denial, dissociation, projection, displacement, identification, and reaction formation (P. 139). He said:
“My thesis is that the traditionally termed defensive processes can all be understood as examples of the defensive exclusion of unwelcome information.” P. 140.
While the article below is older, it nicely introduces and summarizes the concept of information processing in a practical application, and helps set the foundation for understanding Crittenden’s ideas on attachment and her development of the Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM).
Crittenden, P. M. (1993), An information-processing perspective on the behavior of neglectful parents, 20 Crim. Just. & Behavior 27.