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Attachment Theories and Studies Into Relationship Quality and Attachment Styles

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Childcare
Wordcount: 3519 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Table of Contents

Introduction …………………………………………. 1

Problem Statement ………………………………….. 3

Proposed Solutions …………………………………. 7

Conclusion …………………………………………... 9

References ………………………………………….. 11








When looking back at one’s childhood what memories come flooding to the brain; experiences that were happy, sad, traumatic, all of the above? Childhood plays a significant role shaping individuals into the adults they become. One aspect of childhood that is truly important is early childhood attachment. What is early childhood attachment, one may ask? Early childhood attachment is a theory that was developed through the joint contributions of John Bowlby and Mary Salter Ainsworth in the early 1950s (Bretherton, 1992).  Attachment theory focuses on the relationships between people, and the importance these bonds are in regard to personal development.


John Bowlby contributions

 In 1928, John Bowlby graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in developmental psychology. It was not until Bowlby performed volunteer work at a school for maladjusted children that he truly began to understand childhood development. Two children in particular were the driving factor behind Bowlby’s work. One child was a teenager who had been expelled from his previous school due to theft. He was a very cold, isolated, affectionless individual whom did not have a stable mother figure. The other child was “an anxious boy of 7 or 8 who trailed Bowlby around and was known as his shadow” (Ainsworth, 1974).  By observing these two young gentlemen, Bowlby knew that early family played a large role in the personality development of a child.  Throughout his years of study, Bowlby was primarily interested in the distress and separation anxiety children experienced when separated from their primary caregiver. His findings brought him to discover that behavior and motivation patterns are the main proponents to attachment. With this, he sought to understand how early childhood attachment can contribute late problems as adults.


Mary Ainsworth contributions

Mary Ainsworth graduated from the University of Toronto just before the beginning of World War II. Ainsworth became associated with childhood development when she acquired a research job, under John Bowlby, that was looking into the separation from mother in early childhood and the effect on personality development (Bretherton, 1992, p. 760).  In was in these years working with Bowlby that Ainsworth further added to the theory of attachment with her assessment technique called the Strange Situation Classification. In this experiment, researchers observed children’s reactions through a one way mirror when presented different situations involving the infants, their parent, and a stranger. Different circumstance included the parent and infant alone, the stranger joining the two, the parent leaving the infant and stranger alone, etc. The results of this experiment identified three of the main four attachment styles: secure, insecure avoidant, insecure ambivalent. The fourth being insecure disorganized, was discovered later in history.


The four attachment styles

There are four main types of attachment: secure, insecure avoidant, insecure ambivalent and insecure disorganized. Below is chart that shows how each attachment style presents itself from the aspect of both the caregiver/parent and the child. 

Problem Statement

The importance of Secure Attachment 

Secure attachment is characterized by children knowing they can seek comfort and reassurance in their caregiver or parent in a time of need. Creating secure attachment in early childhood is crucial to ensure that a child will grow into an emotionally stable adult. Secure attachment in childhood not only fosters positive relationships as a child, but also facilitates how they make successful ones as adults. On the contrary, improper attachment as a child will have devastating effects on how these children develop relationships as adults. The fact of the matter is children are particularly sensitive to caretaking during the first 6-18 months of life. It is during this time they must develop their core attachment to their parents (Sylva, 1997, p. 187).

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By properly understanding early childhood attachment, it allows parents to make the correct observation of their own attachment style with their children. If you fail to understand proper childhood attachment, it will have negative results that will last your child’s lifetime. How can one say that? Where are the facts? These are a couple questions parents will ask when faced with such bold statements. Knowing what is fact and fiction is important in properly education oneself on the topic at hand. Multitudes of studies of have been conducted on early attachment with a large quantity of them looking at the effects it has on adulthood. The following information will highlight how childhood insecure and secure attachment effect adult attachment.


Shaver and Hazan Contributions

Within the field of attachment, there is an increasing awareness that attachment plays a role in creating adult bonds. Two individuals, Hazan and Shaver, have fully developed the attachment theory approach to adult love relationships. How this theory can be explained is through the idea of continuity in attachment style. Continuity in attachment can be described as the “persistence of inner working models of the self and of relationships based on early social interactions” (Feeney, 1990, p. 281). Shaver and Hazan have evidence, theoretical and empirical, for the relevance of attachment style and romantic love. The empirical research that Shaver and Hazan conducted included two adult samples and sought to investigate the relationships between attachment and aspects of both childhood and adult relationships. Their research found that the prevalence of the different attachment styles was similar for adults as it was for infants (Feeney, 1990, p. 281).


The effects on Adults: Initial Studies

There have been a variety of studies conducted that focus on relationship quality and attachment styles. Research conducted by Levy and Davis found that there is correlation between love styles and attachment styles. Below is a chart that represents the correlation between attachment styles and relationships (Levy & Davis, 1988).

Attachment Styles



Positive relationship characteristics


Less intimate

Less emotionally satisfying


Negatively relationship characteristics

While Levy and Davis found some compelling results, more research needed to be done comparing attachments styles to other theoretical formulations of love.


The Feeney Study

The Feeney study was a self-report study that aimed to increase knowledge in continuity attachment and the effects on adult relationships. The study was designed to assess attachment style as a predictor for adult romantic relationships. Researchers also sought to find how individuals with each attachment style approached love. The questionnaire that was given out reflected a multitude of theoretical perspective along with a self-esteem test. Subjects of the study were three hundred seventy-four undergraduate college students with ages ranging from seventeen to fifty-eight. Results from the questionnaire revealed that fifty five percent of subjects identified as having secure attachment style, thirty percent as insecure avoidant, and fifteen as insecure ambivalent. Individuals with secure attachment reported that they had positive perceptions toward their early family relationships along with the innate ability to trust in others. Subject who identified as insecure ambivalent had negative perceptions toward their early family relationships with lack of paternal support. These subjects showed dependence and desire for commitment in their current relationships. Subjects with insecure avoidant attachment had strong feelings of mistrust and distanced themselves from others. Feeney expressed, “This suggests that attachment style is likely to exert a very pervasive influence on the individual’s relationships with others, because it reflects general views about the rewards and dangers of interpersonal relationships” (Feeney, 1990, p. 286). Subjects in the avoidant group were more likely to account that they had never been in love or had any intense love experiences. Secure subjects love relationships lasted the longest among the three groups. Furthermore, they generated the highest levels of self-esteem and relatively low scores on the anxiety scale. Both insecure groups scored low on self-esteem and high in anxiety. Surprisingly, secure subject and avoidant subject both scored high on the friendship love scale while ambivalent subjects scored low. In summation, individuals with secure attachment style had long, loving, trusting relationships coupled with high self-esteem. Subjects with insecure-avoidant expressed feelings of mistrust along with avoidance of intimacy while those with ambivalent are characterized by high dependency and commitment. Additionally, both insecure groups had shorter and less fulfilled relationships (Feeney, 1990).


Styron and Janoff-Bulman Study

Thomas Styron and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman conducted a study with the University of Massachusetts to find the contributions of early childhood attachment and abuse history have on adult attachment, conflict resolution behaviors, and depression. It is rather common knowledge in the human development field of study that children whom are maltreated are more likely to be insecurely attached.  However, not many studies have used samples of individuals with history of childhood abuse to examine the relationship between childhood and adult attachment styles (Styron and Bulman, 1997, p.1016). Styron and Janoff stated that the main reason for the study was to determine the long-term consequences of early attachment and childhood abuse. The study was conducted at a large northeastern university through a series of self-report questionnaire. Respondents were 879 undergraduates with female participants making up 60% and males 40%. In the study they classified individuals as being in either of two groups secure, or insecure. Moreover, three attachment relationships were measured: childhood perceptions of attachment to mother, father, and romantic partner adult attachment. Results of the study showed that 42% of participants indicated some level of abuse. In relation to the adult romantic attachment 55% of the no-abuse group and 63% in the abuse group were classifies as insecure (Styron, 1997). Abused respondents reported less attachment to father and mother. Additionally, member of the abuse group reported being more physically violent towards partners. Individuals in the insecure group reported higher levels of depression. Attachment to mother and father were excellent predictors for depression. Additionally, attachment to mother and father were high predictors for romantic attachment. Meaning, both depression and adult romantic attachment were best accounted for by childhood attachment.

Proposed Solutions

While some of the information that has been presented is alarming, it can be avoided. By taking the proper steps to ensure that your child has secured attachment you are helping to secure their future relationships. However, this is easier said than done. While some parents purposely neglect their children, others may simply not have the time. This could be because there are working consistently to support their baby, in school, etc. Whatever the case may be, there are steps any type of parent can take to ensure their child properly attaches.  Parental interventions are one way that parents can better their sensitivity toward their children and better their infant’s attachment. It is important to focus on interventions in the first 3 years of life; there are irreversible effects of impaired neurological development after 3 year (Fox, Leavitt & Warhol, 1999). There are a few effective types of interventions for enhancing maternal sensitivity.


Starting with yourself

It is important to understand that secure attachment does not just happen with the snap of your fingers. Lots of time and effort has to be put in. Taking care of you first will make it easier to create secure attachment. First things first, one has to get enough sleep. This can be hard sometimes with a crazy schedule but it is important none the less. Sleep deprivation can make one irritable and crabby. Having a bad attitude around your infant is not good for either of you. Take naps when your baby takes naps. Ask for help around the house to give yourself down time. The smallest bit of help goes a long way. Babies are very in tuned with their parent’s emotions and can detect when they are feeling stressed or anxious.  An anxious caregiver can add to a baby’s stress. Finding health ways to deal with your stress, like taking a walk, can ensure that you are not putting un-needed stress onto your little one (Robinson, 2018).


Kangaroo Method

One extremely easy and cheap method that can be used to help mothers become more sensitive caregivers is the Kangaroo method. The Kangaroo method is characterized by infants being placed upright on a mother’s chest with direct skin to skin contact. An experiment was done testing the Kangaroo method to see if it created an environment in the family where caregivers would become established in sensitive caregiving. Additionally, caregivers would become more accustomed to their infant’s cues. Results found that there was a change in mother’s perception of their child after doing the Kangaroo Method. It is a powerful tool in creating the “bonding effect” (Tessier, 1998). Interventions with the smallest investments in time and money tended to be more effective (Bakermans, 2003).


Share the Happiness

Another simple yet effective intervention is the importance of sharing your happiness with your baby. Laughing, playing, holding, touching and other interactions that will make your baby smile is all you need! Since your baby cannot speak yet, your body language, tone of voice, and a simple loving touch are important ways of communicating with your baby. Books, toys, even music are all ways you can spend quality happy time with your baby.



When you choose to be a parent, you took on the responsibility of having a child. You now have a responsibility of raising this child properly. If you do not have the proper attachment with your little one, they will become troubled adults. Parents need to be attentive of their emotions and what they are communicating to their children. The youngest of infants can sense their parent’s emotional shifts, along with feeling that are genuine versus pretend. Insecure attachment is linked to individuals having lack of empathy, anti-social behaviors, hostility, and helplessness. Based on the continuity of attachment, insecure attached children are more likely to become insecure attached adults. Bowlby’s work on attachment, separation, and loss explains how infants emotionally attach to their primary caregiver and become distressed when separated from them. Ainsworth’s work linked caregiver’s responsiveness to infant signals during the first months of life. (Feeney 1990, 281). A common misconception is that secure attachment and love are the same thing. Unfortunately, just loving your child will not necessarily result in secure attachment. Secure attachment comes from hard work, understanding your baby, responding to their cues, and managing your own stress. Taking time for yourself is important, along with spending quality happy time with your child. The simplest interventions such as the Kangaroo method can result in a happier healthier baby. Secure attachment is vitally important for your child’s future, take the necessary steps now. I promise your child will thank you when they are an adult.




  • Ainsworth, M. D. S., Bell, S. M., & Stayton, D. (1974). Infant-mother attachment and social development. London: Cambridge University Press. pg. 99-135.
  • Bakermans-kranenburg , Amsterdam, IJzendoorn (2003). Less is More: Meta-Analyses of Sensitivity and Attachment interventions in Early Childhood.  Psychological Bulletin, 129(2):195-215.
  • Bretherton, I. (1992). The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. American Psychological Association, Inc. pg. 759-763.
  • Feeney, J. A., & Noller, P. (1990). Attachment style as a predictor of adult romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(2), 281-291.
  • Fox, N. A., Leavitt, L. A., & Warhol, J. G. (1999). The role of early experience in infant development. New York: Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute.
  • Levy, M. B., & Davis, K. E. (1988). Lovestyles and attachment styles compared: Their relations     to each other and to various relationship characteristics. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 5, 439- 471.
  • Main, M., & Hesse, E. (1990).  Attachment in the preschool years: Theory, research, and intervention. University of Chicago Press. pg. 161-182.
  • Rees, C. (2007). Childhood attachment. The British Journal of General Practice57(544), 920–922.
  • Robinson, L. (2018). Building a Secure Attachment Bond with your Baby. Help Guide.org.
  • Styron, T. & Janoff-B, R (1997). Childhood Attachment and Abuse: Long Term Effects on Adult Attachment, Depression and Conflict Resolution, vol. 21, issue 10, pg. 1015-1023.
  • Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, IJzendoorn MH (2012). Attachment. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development.
  • Tessier, R. (1998). Kangaroo Mother Care and the Bonding Hypothesis. The Indian Journal of Pediatrics. Pg. 1-8.


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