Attachment, Arousal, and Anxiety

The “house of psychopath” is constructed on a foundation of no attachment,

underarousal, and minimal anxiety. These appear to be necessary, related, but insufficient characteristics that provide certain biological predispositions for the development of the psychopathic character.

Attachment is a biologically-based, species-specific behavioral system which serves the survival of the infant by maintaining the closeness of the caretaker. First conceptualized and investigated by the British psychoanalyst John Bowlby and his colleagues (Robertson and Bowlby, 1952), it is deeply rooted in mammals, but absent in reptiles. The human infant first expresses his object-seeking through sucking and crying, behaviors which maintain his physiological balance by obtaining warmth, touch, and food. During the first few months of life, this proximity seeking becomes more object specific and emotionally refined as the infant attaches most readily to his mother, and cries when she deserts him while in a state of need, even if it is momentary. It is during this time when the rudiments of object permanence are first observed: the infant can anticipate the presence of an object that was just perceived, and squeals with delight when peek-a-boo is played; or when shown a photograph of mother in her absence, will react emotionally to an external image that is also found in the child’s mind.

As 3 psychoanalysts, we infer that this object representation can be held in the child’s mind as a memory for the first time, and is one manifestation of attachment.

Attachment is often defined as a strong affectional bond in both children and adults. It

was extensively researched during the last half century because it can be relatively easily measured: proximity seeking to an object, distress when the object leaves, and certain characteristic behaviors when the object returns. It is a stable characteristic in both children and adults, and most human beings with the requisite biology and loving, dependable parents will grow up to be able to form secure attachments throughout their lifespan (Cassidy and Shaver, 1999).

Pathologies of attachment, however, have been identified and measured: they are typically labeled fearful, preoccupied, disorganized, and dismissive (Meloy, 2002). Most salient to the psychopath’s mind is the latter pathology, characterized by behavior that indicates a chronic emotional detachment from others. Bowlby (1969) regarded the elements of detachment to be apathy, self-absorption, preoccupation with nonhuman objects, and no displays of emotion.

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