Attachment is typically defined as a close
reciprocal, emotional relationship between two persons, characterised by mutual affection and a desire to maintain proximity’ Schaffer (1993). When a close attachment is formed this acts as a survival mechanism as this ensures a child will be fed, protected, kept warm etc.
Bowlby’s believed it is a basic component of human nature; a genetically inherited need to form attachments and described it as as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings." Attachment promotes survival in three ways. Through proximity maintenance this keeps the carer (usually mother) and child close to each other, through a safe haven as a child will eagerly explore safe in the knowledge that the attachment figure can be returned to. Finally through separation distress as separation can cause anxiety in the absence of the attachment figure. Bowlby concluded that the need to form an attachment is innate and adaptive and most likely to develop in the sensitive period occurring between six months and three years of age.
Bowlby shared the views of other and proposed that early experiences influence development and behaviours later in life and developed an ‘internal working model’ (1969). This proposed that early attachments form a schema; providing the child with the basic understanding of what a relationship is. This schema is then adapted and used in future years to develop other relationships.
Bowlby's theories have helped influence policies and practices in many places around the world such as care homes, orphanages, hospitals etc. Critiques of his theories claim that his ideas were often oversimplified, misrepresented, distorted or exaggerated and that he concentrated on the role of this mother as on the face of it, he does appear to neglect the father. In response Bowlby and Ainworth (1962) presented further research through the World Health Organisation to address misapprehensions. Lamb (1983) suggests that young children view mothers as providers of basic needs and in contrast view their fathers as providers of fun, excitement, and play that is noisy, emotional, boisterous, physical, and spontaneous. Schaffer later raised the importance of other influential relationships formed with siblings; described as horizontal as opposed to the vertical relationships formed with parents and other adults.
Specifically, Bowlby’s internal working model has also come under critisism. Zimmerman et al (2000) concluded that the style of early attachment is not necessarily a good predictor of how later life relationships are formed but instead, it is life events, such as divorce, that have a greater impact. Evidence has also been provided to show that a negative experience early in life can actually be overcome by positive experiences through school and with good relationships with other adults (Rutter & Quinton 1988).
Schaffer and Emerson (1964) conducted a study within a working class area of Glasgow involving sixty babies, observing them at regular intervals to find the age at which attachments start and to what intensity. Separation anxiety and stranger anxiety were also measured. Conclusions show that attachments develop in three distinct stages. The asocial stage occurs between birth and six weeks where the child displays attention seeking behaviours (cooing, smiling and crying) but these are not directed to any one person. The indiscriminate attachment period is between six weeks and six months where preferences are shown to familiar faces but the child will still be happy to give and receive attention from anyone. Specific attachments follow when a child becomes primarily attached to the main care provider. In their studies they found that half of all the children showed their first specific attachment at the age of six to eight months followed by a fear of strangers a month later. Once a specific attachment had been made then the child displayed separation and stranger anxieties. Attachments to other key figures followed shortly after the initial specific attachment had been made. The babies were studied in their natural environment which gives validation ecologically and that the findings could be generalised to the real world. However, part of the data came from parents keeping daily diaries which could have been reflective information show bias.
Ainsworth and Bell (1970) expanded on Bowlby's work in a strange situation study with children between the ages of twelve and eighteen months. They looked at four particular behaviours: separation anxiety, the infant’s willingness to explore, stranger anxiety and reunion behaviour. The study concluded three major styles of attachment: secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment, and avoidant-insecure attachment. Main and Solomon (1986) added a fourth style known as disorganized-insecure attachment.
Securely attached children generally become visibly upset when attachment figure leaves and happy on return. If frightened they actively seek comfort from a parent or carer. Any contact initiated by a parent is readily accepted. These show a clear preference to a parent/carer but can also be comforted to some extent by other people if absent. Parents of these children tend to play more with them, are responsive to need and react quicker than parents of insecurely attached children. Additional studies have found these type of children are more empathetic during later stages of childhood and are less disruptive, less aggressive, and more mature than children with ambivalent or avoidant attachment styles. As adults they tend to have trusting, long-term relationships. Hazen and Shaver (1987) found that they tend to believe romantic love is enduring and Mccarthy (1999) found that women had more positive feelings about their adult romantic relationships. Other key characteristics in later life include having high self-esteem, enjoying intimate relationships, seeking out social support, and an ability to share feelings with other people.
Children with ambivalent attachments tend to be suspicious of strangers and display considerable distress when separated from a parent/carer. Neither are they reassured or comforted by their return and in some cases reject the parent by refusing comfort; even displaying direct aggression toward them. Cassidy and Berlin (1994) found ambivalent attachment to be relatively uncommon (7% to 15% of infants in the United States displaying this attachment style). Observational research consistently links this attachment style to low maternal involvement. As adults they often feel reluctant about becoming close to others which can lead to frequent short term relationships (Hazen and Shaver 1987). Research by Cassidy and Berlin also identified a pathological pattern where ambivalently attached adults cling to young children as a source of security instead of peers.
Avoidant attachment children generally tend to avoid close contact with a parent.carer; this becomes especially pronounced after a period of absence. While they not specifically reject attention neither do they actively seek it. Children show no real preference between a parent and stranger. As adults they tend to have difficulty with relationships and close intimacy as they have an inability to share feelings, thoughts and emotions. Research has also shown that as adults they may be more accepting and likely to engage in casual sex (Feeney, J., Noller, and Patty 1993). Hazen and Shaver (1987) found that they describe real, meaningful love as rare and temporary.
Disorganized-insecure attachment children display a lack of any clear attachment behaviors. Actions and responses to a parent/arer are a mixture of behaviors described above. The child may appear dazed, seeming either confused or apprehensive in the presence of a attachment. Main and Solomon (1986) proposed that its inconsistent behaviours displayed by parent/carer may be a strong contributing factor in creating this style of attachment. This was concurred with by Main and Hesse (1990) who added that parents that act as figures of both fear and reassurance to a child cause confusion for the child and contribute to a disorganized-insecure attachment.
While some claim that they do in actual fact the attachment styles formed in infancy are not necessarily identical to those demonstrated in adulthood. Those described as ambivalent or avoidant in infancy can become securely attached as adults, while those with a secure attachment in childhood can show insecure attachment styles in adulthood. Individual temperament and personality is also thought to play a role in attachment style while intervening life experiences also play a large role in adult attachment styles (Kagan 1984).
From a behaviourist perspective, behaviour is not innate but learned. They believe that this can come from several sources: associations being made through conditioning, behaviour being altered by patterns of reward and punishment (operant conditioning), or by simply watching others. These explanations do take necessarily take into account complex human behaviour, nor consider internal processes, complex relationships or the emotional nature of attachments and seems to explain them in rather simplistic terms.
Social Learning Theory (SLT) is similar in some respects. SLT demonstrated that an action that is rewarded is more likely to be repeated; it also emphasises the role of imitation. A child will watch others and if they are rewarded for their behaviour they are likely to copy. Hay and Vespo (1988) suggest that attachments are formed once a parent has teached the child how to love them and is achieved in three ways: through modelling where a child will replicate the affectionate behaviour that they see between parents, through direct instruction on how to be affectionate and through social facilitation where parents encourage appropriate behaviours.
Dollard and Miller (1950) suggest that hunger and cold are the strong motivators for a child, and that it satisfies these needs by eating and seeking warmth; known as drive reduction. Once satisfied this results in drive reduction which in itself provides reward and an attachment occurs with the person meeting the needs. Classical conditioning offers an explanation for food alone being the reason for attachment. A child will associate food and mother together and at birth but as a neutral stimulus. As the mother is continually paired with food she slowly becomes associated with it and eventually produces pleasure; a conditioned response. Contradictions to these theories have been found in other studies. Schaffer and Emerson found 39% of the Glasgow babies formed their first attachment with someone other than the person who fed them; suggesting food is not a requirement for forming attachments. Main and Weston (1981) also found that children behave differently for the male/female parent which suggests attachment type is not consistent.
Thomas (1998) found that a child will benefit from a variety of attachments and that all are similarly important for development. For example, an attachment to a father figure will provide benefits that a mother could not provide. In Schaffer and Emerson’s Glasgow babies nearly a third had five or more attachments by the age of 18 months.
Much of the research considers similarities but we also need to consider why and in which way behaviours differ. For example, individuals in the same high level environment can vary quite considerable in the types of attachments formed. Bowlby believed that the need to form an attachment was genetic and as a result experienced by the infants of every culture. Ainsworth carried out most of her research in the United States and others have taken this around the world imposing this blueprint on other countriesl. Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988) concluded that it is wrong to think of everyone in a culture having the same practices following a meta-analysis from a variety of studies performed in various countries. Within a culture there may be many sub-cultures; child rearing practices may be ethnically or racially based but also may be class specific.
Thomas and Chess (1977) suggested children are born with one of three personality types; easy, difficult and slow to warm up. Belsky and Rovine (1987) also found physiological characterisitcs in the first few days of life that seemed to match later attachment styles, for example, calm babies were more likely to develop secure attachments.
Deprivation or separation from the primary attachment can result in both short and long term effects. Robertson and Bowlby (1952) proposed a model of the short-term effects of separation (lasting weeks or months) involving three stages: protest, despair and detachment called the PDD model. The research found that during the protest stage a child will panic, cry and call out for its mother with the stage lasting anything from a few hours up to a few weeks. This is followed by the despair stage where a child will becomes apathetic; they will occasionally cry and call for their mother. Finally, the child enters the detachment stage where they cry less and show more interest in surroundings. When the mother returns initially the child shows little interest and may even be angry and rejecting. However, the attachment is soon rebuilt.
Robertson and Robertson (1971) found that if steps are taken to minimise the separation, for example discussing the reasons for the separation with the child and keeping to familiar routines, the effects can be minimised. This study, along with others of a similar vein have played a significant role in modernising attitudes and adjusting how people deal with separation for the child and parent/carer. Hospitals are now very reluctant to allow even brief periods of separation but if unavoidable, then they are carefully prepared and organised.
From this studies Bowlby also developed his maternal deprivation hypothesis on long term separation claiming that if bonds are broken early in life this can lead to permanent and irreversible problems in later life. ADDIDDAS is the mnemonic for characristics displayed meaning; aggression, delinquency, dwarfism, intellectual retardation, depression, dependency, affectionless and social maladjustment.
Several studies support this hypothesis. Spitz (1945) studied orphanages in South America and found children showed very few displays of affection. Goldfarb (1947) found children who had spent three years at the orphanage had lower IQ’s, were less social and more likely to be aggressive. However, we must be mindful that the conditions were probably poor and quite different to what we know today and these could have impacted on behaviour. Similar to short term deprivation, studies have found that many of the effects of early deprivation can be overcome and may not be as permanent or irreversible as Bowlby appears to assume.
The numbers of children using day care has risen drastically over the last few decades. This has been mainly due to changing family units and in particular the changing role of the mother, for example, much more women work full type in contrast to the 1950’s or 60’s. In 1994 Violata and Russell reviewed the findings of 88 studies and concluded that regular day care for more than 20 hours a week had an ‘unmistakeably negative effect on socio-emotional development, behaviour and attachment of young children.’
However, in contrast, studies have also suggested no detrimental effect on attachment or social and cognitive development. Clarke-Stewart et al (1994) found those receiving up to 30 hours a week of day care were no more distressed than others attending for less when separated from parents. Comparisons have also been done between infants attending day care and ones who remained at home which found no difference in attachment with their mother, Roggman et al (1994).
Evidence does support the theory that early opportunities to mix with lots of other children help develop peer relationships. Shea (1981) compared the behaviours of those attending day care for different lengths of time and found that children who attended more regularly were more active and more social; suggesting a correlation between time spent in day care and sociability. Clarke-Stewart et al (1994) also found that increased time in day care seemed to speed up social development and that social skills were developed earlier.
In contract, a number of studies have found that long periods of time in day care during the first five years can lead to an increase of aggressive behaviour later in childhood (Vandell and Corasaniti 1990, Belsky 1999). However, as always, things aren’t quite so clear cut. Borge et al (2004) compared children in day care to children reared at home and found that children kept at home appeared to be more aggressive. It could be that poverty caused the aggressive behaviour as the children in this study kept at home were generally from disadvantaged backgrounds so it is difficult to see if the cause is day care or poverty. Critiques also argue that much of the research into aggression fail to distinguish or define the difference between assertiveness and aggression.
The conclusions from studies need to be carefully considered for a number of reasons. The types care used can differ; childminders, nursery, playgroups etc. Dependant on the setting toher variables exisit such as the adult-child ratio, qualifications and training of the staff and the number of peers present; all of which will impact on a child’s behaviour. The personality traits of the children also have a contributing affect on the chlds behaviour and the response to attachment separation.
The NICHD (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) are carrying out a longitudinal study of the effects of day care which aims to take many of the variables mentioned (plus many more) into account. This ongoing study began in 1991 with some results already published: more time in day care results in more assertive in children aged five, non-compliant and aggressive behaviours were three times more likely with behavioural problems such as tantrums, lying and arguing when children are in full-time day care. Even the latest results from this study Jay Belsky (2007) confirm this as they still found a link between extended day care and aggressiveness in children at twelve years old. On a positive note, high quality day care is associated with higher levels of cognitive development. NICHD also confirm that the home environment and the sensitivity of the mother is a much better indicator of social competence and aggression than actual time spent in day care as the more sensitive mothers were far more likely to be producing children with fewer social problems.
Campbell, Lamb and Hwang (2000) is a further longitudinal study, this time specifically with Swedish children. Initial findings are that children who had spent long days in day care were found to be less socially competent than those who spent shorter periods but many times a week in day care. However, the quality of care provided is crucial; those attending good quality day care before the age of three had increased social competence. They have also found a high correlation between social competence aged three and age fifteen which suggests that social abilities are formed at an early age and once developed are unlikely to change in later life.
Separation anxiety is the fear children have of being parted from their parents or carers and is very common and normal among babies and toddlers. By pre-school age most children are beginning to understand the intentions of others and can often cognitively understand that a parent will return, however, a small number of pre-schoolers and school-age children will develop separation anxiety disorder. When this does occur the child’s behaviour often cause despair and anxiety for the parent.
Some of the behaviours that children may exhibit are: crying and clinging at drop off time as well as transition times throughout the day, such as outside time or nap time; carrying a security item throughout the day; and sometimes crying at pick up time because it reminds them of how they felt when the parent dropped them off. This can last for as short as a few minutes with a transition into participatory behaviours or can last for hours for as long as the parent is away. In addition, children may become withdrawn or avoidant and they may also exhibit symptoms after they are returned to their parent. It is not uncommon for parents to observe some anger or distance from their children after they return, as if to punish them for leaving them. .
An observational study provides an ideal opportunity to study behaviours that could not be created ethically in any other way. It’s a huge psychological challenge for a child to attend nursery and often marks the first ventures into a wider world.. Going to nursery or school is a real change and children cope very differently. Psychologically, the healthiest form of attachment is securely attached where the children will actively seek it out social interaction and will be relatively confident in going to nursery or school because they know their carer will return to collect them. Children with separation anxiety can be difficult for both the mother and child to handle and possibly disruptive to other children.
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