Attachment is the emotional bond that typically forms between infant and caregiver, and it is the means by which the helpless infant gets primary needs met. It then becomes an engine of subsequent social, emotional, and cognitive development. The early social experience of the infant stimulates growth of the brain and can have an enduring influence on the ability to form stable relationships with others.
The genius of attachment is that it provides the infant's first coping system; it sets up in the infant's developing mind a mental representation of the caregiver, one that can be summoned up as a comforting mental presence in difficult moments. Attachment allows an infant to separate from the caregiver without distress and begin to explore the world around her.
The primary goal of attachment is to ensure survival of a helpless infant, but it does much more than that. It literally establishes neural pathways that organize later behavior in many domains. And it provides the foundation for self-regulation. Neuroscientists believe that attachment is such a primal need that there are networks of neurons in the brain dedicated to setting it in motion in the first place and a hormone—oxytocin—to foster the process.