Internal Working Model: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:00 Internal Working Model…
  • 0:43 Attachment Theory
  • 1:29 Internal Working Model
  • 2:13 Developmental Impact
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Leslie Bartley

Leslie currently teaches various psychology courses while also working on her PhD in human behavior.

From the relationship with your parents and caregivers, you learn how to love, hate, trust, treat strangers, and anticipate outcomes to various situations. This concept is called internal working model and is a key aspect of Bowlby's attachment theory.

Internal Working Model & Attachment Theory

You're walking down the street and make eye contact with a stranger; you smile because that's how you learned to respond to people. You anticipate two responses from that person: They either smile back, or ignore you. How did you know that? Have you ever wondered how you learned about other people and the world? More importantly, have you ever considered how you learned about yourself in reference to others and the world?

One approach to these questions is the internal working model and how it relates to the parent-child relationship - attachment. We're going to discuss how the internal working model is a key factor of Bowlby's attachment theory and why the parent-child attachment is crucial for healthy development.

Attachment Theory

To start, let's take a look at the theory closely associated with internal working model: attachment theory. John Bowlby was a prominent psychologist who believed that the parent-child relationship was the foundation for social relationships and sense of self; the interactions the infant has with their parent or primary caregiver helps them learn about themselves, others, and the world.

This belief is the source of Bowlby's attachment theory, the idea that the attachment, or emotional bond, formed between an infant and parent/caregiver help the child learn about the world and how to interact in it. There are four types of attachment: secure, insecure ambivalent, insecure avoidant, and disorganized.

Internal Working Model

A key factor of attachment theory is the internal working model. The internal working model can be defined as a thinking process, which is built on past experiences and helps the individual consider responses and actions.

As infants interact with their caregivers and the world, they begin to internalize those experiences and form schema, or thoughts; the more experiences, the more thoughts are created and built upon. Think of schema as Lego blocks; the more pieces you collect, the larger the structure you can build.

The best part of the internal working model is that it serves as reference center; as you encounter new situations, you can refer back to your past to learn from and make decisions about current and future responses.

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