“Theories of Transitional Object Attachment: An Overview”*

*Carole J. Litt, in International Journal of Behavioral Development (1.9.1986).


In 1953, Donald Winnicott introduced the term ‘transitional object’ to describe those blankets, soft toys, and bits of cloth to which young children frequently develop intense, persistent attachments. Winnicott theorized that such T.O. attachments represent an essential phase of ego development leading to the establishment of a sense of self. Subsequent psychological theorists have linked the T.O. to the processes of: separation-individuation; ego and body ego development; the birth of memory, libidinal object constancy, and the capacity for symbolization, creativity; and the capacity for object relations and empathy. This paper reviews the major theories concerning the origin, development and psychological meaning of T.O.’s, and examines their validity in light of current empirical knowledge of T.O. behavior. An argument is made for viewing the T.O. as a developmental facilitator which may acquire different qualities and serve different psychological functions as the child moves toward physical and emotional independence.”

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