3. Examine attachment in childhood and its role
in the subsequent formation of relationships
Attachment in childhood
was suggested by Bowlby (1951) and it has become one of the most influential
theories in understanding children’s emotional and social development as well as
adult love relationships.
Attachment can be defined as the emotional bond between an individual and an
attachment figure (caregiver who is responsive and sensitive to the child’s
Parental sensitivity is important in the development of attachment.
Attachment can be observed from around the age of seven months. From this
age, the baby shows separation distress when the primary attachment figure
(often the mother) leaves the child. “The strange situation” (Ainsworth et
al., 1978) can test if attachment has formed.
Attachment and internal working model
claims that there is a continuity between childhood and adult relationships,
i.e. early attachment patterns formed with parents continue in later
relationships because they create an internal working model. The internal
working model is a mental representation of the self, about the attachment
figure, and how others will react (social life).
Internal working model:
The child’s experiences with attachment figures during infancy, childhood,
and adolescence result in expectations (mental representations or schemas)
that persist relatively unchanged throughout the rest of life. If the child
is confident that the attachment figure is available when needed, the child
will feel loved, secure and worthy of love and attention. According to
Bowlby, the internal working model tends to be reproduced in later
relationships (parenting, romantic love).
The internal working model reflects the various experiences concerning
accessibility and responsiveness of the attachment figures that an
individual has experienced. Differences in experience with attachment
figures may explain different attachment patterns as well as attachment
disorders. The Strange Situation Paradigm was developed by Ainsworth et al.
(1978) to test if attachment has formed.
Mary Ainsworth and her Strange Situation
carried out the Ganda Project which was an observational study of 28 mothers
interacting with their child performed in Uganda over nine months
(longitudinal). The observations were naturalistic (in the family living room).
Ainsworth interviewed the mothers and measured maternal sensitivity to the
infant’s signals and needs as these were considered to be important factors in
the development of attachment. Ainsworth replicated the study in the USA in 1971
with 26 families.
et al (1978)
suggested a classification system with three attachment patterns based on “The
Strange Situation paradigm”, a procedure with several sequences performed in a
laboratory to test a child’s attachment pattern to the mother. Key features of
the procedure are:
the child’s reaction to the mother’s departure
how the child reacts to her when she returns
how the child reacts to a stranger.
of responses to the Strange Situation are assumed to show three particular
(type B): This pattern is displayed by 70% of American infants. The infant
shows distress when the mother leaves the room and quickly seeks contact
with her when she returns. The infant is easily soothed by the mother.
(type C): This pattern is displayed by 10% of American infants. The infant
shows distress when the mother leaves the room. The baby seeks contact on
her return but at the same time rejects it.
(type A): This pattern is displayed by 20% of American infants. The infant
does not show distress when the mother leaves the room and avoids contact
when she returns. The baby is not afraid of a stranger. Mothers to avoidant
children tend to be unresponsive and uninterested in the child’s signals.
Campos et al
performed a review of American studies on infant attachment patterns and found
the following distribution: secure (62%), ambivalent (15%), and avoidant (15%).
Now lets examine if that attachment we work so hard forming when we are younger,
effects our future relationships......
Hazan and Shaver (1987) suggested that romantic love is an attachment
process which is experienced differently by different people because of
variations in their attachment histories.
People have formed “inner working models” of themselves and social
interaction with partners based on their attachment history. These inner
working models are an important source of continuity between early and later
feelings and behavior.
Hazan and Shaver (1988)
consisted of two different studies.
Aim To investigate:
whether the same distribution of childhood attachment patterns was
manifested in a study on adult love relationships
whether the difference in attachment patterns could be linked to different
whether respondents’ descriptions of their love relationships could be
classified as secure, avoidant, or ambivalent.
The first was a “love quiz” (survey with forced choices) in a local
newspaper. The researchers used 620 participants (205 males, 415 females,
mean age 36, 91% were heterosexual).
The questionnaire included statements characterizing the most important
love relationship and childhood relationship with parents
Ainsworth et al.’s (1978) attachment categories were translated into terms
appropriate to adult love. It was assumed that beliefs about romantic love
could be measured as an “inner working model”.
Around 56% of the respondents classified themselves as secure, 25% as
avoidant, and 19% as ambivalent.
Secure lovers described their most important love relationships as trusting,
happy, and friendly. Avoidant lovers were characterized by fear of
intimacy, emotional highs and lows, and well as jealousy. Ambivalent
lovers believed that romantic love is characterized by obsession,
emotional highs and lows, extreme sexual attraction, and jealousy.
The best predictors of adult attachment type were respondents’ perception of
the quality of their relationship with each parent as well as parental
relationships. The results showed that loving and affectionate parenting
correlated positively with secure attachment. Participants classified as
avoidant reported cold and rejecting mothers.
The results supported that three different attachment styles could be found
in adult love. The study confirmed Bowlby’s theory about continuity of
attachment (inner working model).
The study had a biased self-selected sample so results could not be
generalized. More females than males responded (gender bias). This could
affect the estimates of prevalence of each attachment type. Use of
questionnaires with forced choices may limit the validity of the findings.
Hazan and Shaver (1988) was a seminal study, which
conceptualized adult romantic relationships as an attachment process. The
study provided a bridge between infant attachment theory and theories of
romantic love. The findings have been replicated and researchers have linked
adult attachment to existing theories of love.