“Attachment as Psychobiological Attunement:  Being on the Same Wavelength”

by Tifany Field

found in The Psychobiology of Attachment and Separation, edited by Martin Reite and Tiffany Field

Academic Press, Inc, 1985 – Orlando

ISBN 0125867808

Pp 415-454



“Attraction is thought to lead to both increased eye contact and pupil dilation as the result of autonomic arousal.  (Field/ap/447)”

“There is an equilibrium of eye contact for a person relating to a second person, [talking about intimacy-equilibrium model of Argyle and Dean 1965] and if eye contact rises above that amount, it may be arousing.  Of course, the equilibrium amount of eye contact may not be the same for two people.  They will then work out some compromise position.  There are also equilibrium points for facial expressions, tone of voice, physical closeness, amount of conversation, and smiling.  [reminds me of the looking away to the left, in Siegel…also that all of this is culturally determined in part] An equilibrium develops for intimacy.  If one of the components of intimacy is changed, one of the others will shift in the inverse direction in order to maintain the equilibrium.  For example, if smiling is reduced and intimacy of topic and physical proximity are held constant, eye contact might then be increased to restore the equilibrium level of intimacy.  If equilibrium for intimacy is disturbed along one of its dimensions and the disturbance is in the direction of too much intimacy, the subject will feel anxiety.  If the disturbance is in the direction of less intimacy, the subject will simply feel deprived of satisfaction.  (Field/ap/447)”

“Hinde has labeled the concordance of interaction patterns and rhythms “behavioral meshing” (Hinde, 1979).  Behavioral meshing is viewed as the interfacing of two adaptable systems where each partner has attuned his or her behavior to the behavioral patterns of the other (Snader, 1977).  Among adults, the way in which participants in a relationship adjust the lengths of their verbal utterances so that neither holds the floor to the exclusion of the other is an example of behavioral meshing.  (Field/ap/447)”  [this is something infants learn early – also the patterns and turn-taking of conversation]

“…Condon and Ogston (1967) have described interactive synchrony as changes in direction of each member’s physical movements with the phoneme boundaries of their partner’s speech.  Thus, their movement changes are coordinated.  Synchrony or coordination of speech patterns has also been demonstrated for individuals in a relationship (Duncan & Fiske, 1977; Jaffe & Feldstein, 1970).  Chapple (1970) goes so far as to suggest that if individual rhythms are not completely synchronized, transients are set in motion.  A synchronized or “free-running” state can be achieved in the first approximation at least as being parallel to substates in the circadian rhythms.  The free-running state may be a natural consequence of the complementarity of two individuals’ basic rhythms, or it may be deliberately contrived by programming one individual’s pattern to be the converse of the other’s.  In ree running, the rhythms show minimal variance.  If one assumes that the pulses (the beats or tempos) are approximately equal and the durations of the component actions and inactions are the quantitative alternates, then person A and person B will never interrupt each other or fail to respond.  Runs of such synchronous interaction occur between partners of long standing – old friends or spouses.  Asynchrony in this model may occur either by latency of response or by interruptive actions….  Synchrony of physiological rhythms among partners of long-standing or close friends has also been reported for cardiac and EEG rhythms (Kamiya, 1982, personal communication).  Although it is not clear to what degree the synchrony of physiological rhythms might derive from entrainment of the motor behavior patterns, it is possible that, as in a perfectly interlocked system, physiological and behavioral synchrony may independently contribute to interactive attunement.  (Field/ap/448)”

“Other investigators have viewed intimate relationships between adults as deriving from synchrony in the rhythms of each member of the dyad.  Synchrony is a term usually applied to the matching of rhythms in the physiological or physical activities of the individu- (Field/ap/447) als.  (Field/ap/448)”

“Byers presents evidence for an underlying rhythm of 10 cycles/second (a close approximation of the 10 cycles/second alpha rhythm) during human interaction and suggests that individuals are in communication when this shared rhythmic relationship at this 10 cycles/second rate or frequency is occurring.  He refers to these relationships as “getting it together” or sharing “vibes”; rhythmic relationships are perceived as good as opposed to others (Field/ap/448) in which there is mismatching, the later being perceived as biologically disturbing.  (Field/ap/449)”

“Thus, there is some evidence that attunement or being on the same wavelength appears to happen for both the behaviors and physiological rhythms of adults who have a close relationship.  Seemingly the only way this could happen is if each partner of the dyad is sensitized and responsive to each other’s stimulation and arousal-modulation needs as in a biofeedback mechanism, and each adjusts his or her behavior to facilitate the behavioral and physiological synchrony of the larger dyadic system.  (Field/ap/449)”

“Multiple and serial attachments among adults may serve adults’ changing stimulation and arousal-modulation needs, analogous to those already described for infants – that is, the mother first serving both stimulation and arousal-modulation needs, the father and peers then primarily serving the infant’s stimulation needs, while the mother remains an arousal modulator.  (Field/ap/449)”

Multiple relationships for the adult (spouses, friends, children) may differentially serve the adult’s stimulation and arousal-modulation needs.  In the event that these are met by one and the same person, there may be perfect attunement with synchrony of behaviors and physiological rhythms (as in the partners of long standing – old friends or spouses…).  In the event that the perfect relationship cannot be found, adults may vacillate between multiple relationships that meet varying types and degrees of these needs, as the adult who turns to a colleague for intellectual stimulation and a spouse for comfort or arousal modulation.  If and when a particular adult’s needs for different types or degrees of stimulation and arousal modulation shift, or the partner’s abilities to meet these shift, asynchrony or loss of attunement may occur and the relationship may suffer or terminate.  Termination, temporary or permanent separation due to disruption of attunement, may lead to physiological disorganization, depressed behavior, and, in some cases, vulnerability to disease due to changes in the immune system.  Thus, the loss of a love one (as in separation, divorce, or death) may result in physiological and behavioral disorganization because the source of stimulation and arousal modulation to maintain exploratory behavior and physiological organization is no longer presentInasmuch as the organism’s behavioral repertoire, physiological makeup, and growth needs are an integrated multivariate complex that changes developmentally, multiple and different types of attachments maybe experienced.  (Field/ap/449)”


“Attachment may be viewed as a kind of psychobiological attunement that occurs in multiple relationships across the life span.  Individuals may become attuned or find themselves on the same wavelength, each experiencing a synchrony of behavioral and biological rhythms as they strive to meet each other’s stimulation and arousal modulation needs.  (Field/ap/450)”

It is here that I see a big problem.  If our brains formed in a dangerous environment and we never experienced any, or enough, synchrony so that it was not built into our brains, we lack the ability to form these patterns or to respond to others so that this state can be established.  We don’t even know what it means, and any system that we attempt to participate in or to create with another person not only falls short, but is shaky and runs close to the edge of chaos.  If we are not able to be in balance within ourselves, due to our early brain forming disruptions and deprivations, we will never even know what this is – a state that must ultimately be about empathy.

It makes me think of the Perry Smith statement that it didn’t bother him to butcher that family because he had only known them a half an hour.  If he had known them longer he might have felt badly.

If there is nobody there to do the job of forming these attunement and rhythmic structures and circuits into a forming infant brain, they just won’t be there.  The brain goes on to form itself without them.  This is not something a “finished” brain can go back and get if it missed out.  These experiences and abilities are formed INTO the brain and FORM IT from the beginning.

Can this be taught, as in an externally applied effort-full operation after the fact?  A person born without legs cannot crawl, walk or run.  If you finish baking a cake that you forgot to put the eggs into, you cannot go back later and add them back in.  There are situations in the developmental process of “growing a human being” where too late is just that – too late.  And nothing can come out of this but suffering.  It was suffering from the maltreatment of abuse and neglect that caused this brain malformation in the first place, and it is suffering that it creates for the individual for the rest of their life.

This is one of the main points we have to understand.

each experiencing a synchrony of behavioral and biological rhythms as they strive to meet each other’s stimulation and arousal modulation needs :   This is part of what makes us live so terribly alone, as we were in the beginning.  Because we are not able to modulate our arousal internally, we are striving to get this need met ourselves, and therefore lack the ability to try to meet someone else’s stimulation and arousal modulation needs.

“Large numbers of attachment disruptions and disturbances, as manifested in child abuse, spouse abuse, divorce, psychopathology, loneliness, depression, suicide, homicide, disease, and death, mandate a deeper and broader understanding of the psychobiology of attachment.  (Field/ap/450)”


On the adult end of all of this, I am very poor at recognizing my own internal communication rhythms, let alone those of anybody else’s.  Therefore I always feel that I am out of sync – because I am.  People are supposed to develop their rhythms in interaction with others, not alone.  I see them as something that starts out flexible, and become increasingly harder to change.

Early conversations between caregivers and infants begin to establish within the infant these human rhythms that match first of all the mini-culture of their family’s environment, and from there match the rhythms of the larger culture.  When an infant is left with their peers, these rhythms are not correctly established.  As Field points out, when an infant is interacting with a peer it is mostly disorganized interaction.  It is the interaction with the adult caregiver that provides the balanced rhythm of just the right amount of stimulation balanced with just the right amount of modulation.  Early peer interactions, or even early interactions with the father (unless he is very attuned to the infant) provide stimulation, but not the required and necessary modulation.

That, therefore, leaves us always seeking modulation even as adults from those around us and we are not able to give them – we take instead.

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