Role of Attachment in a Child Developmet: Analysis of Bowlby’s and Ainsworth’s Theories

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About this sample


Words: 1505 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

Words: 1505|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

All individuals differentiate in regards to how they process information in their surrounding environment. The processing of this information may be influenced by their social environment which includes their parents, their siblings, friends, or teachers. These relationships in the social environment are vital in the course of human development as they impact on an individual emotionally and socially (Bowlby, 1973) Over time, researchers have dedicated time to establish the factors correlating to individual differences in social information processing. These differences within individuals is thought to be a product of the type of relationship that is kept with other individuals in the surrounding environment. This essay will proceed to evaluate evidence provided to explain how attachments in early childhood influences the information of relationships and adulthood.

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One of the more significant theories to have developed to enlighten us with the understanding of attachment was the attachment theory proposed by Bowlby (1969/1982/1973, 1980, 1988) this theory rose from idea that social information processing is directly influenced by the way those individuals have perceived the personal experiences within close relationships. His main hypothesis was that humans were built with an internal working model which in other words is a mental picture of the relationship we have with our primary caregiver (usually a parent) which becomes almost like a blue print of our future relationships. Although, the internal working model functions on the basis of attachment experiences, they can either be insecure or secure. This means that the model can cause an adaptive or maladaptive information processing depending on the initial attachments made.

In reference to the attachment theory, infants are biologically susceptible to form attachments with the primary caregiver. This is the most crucial attachment made as the attachment between the caregiver and the infant determines possible future outcomes. This type of attachment is made purely because the caregiver is known to provide for the infant substantially to meet their needs of survival and safety. For example, feeding the baby allows the baby to survive and comforting them when they cry is a way of showing affection, these things are vital to the development of an infant. A supporting declaration from Bretherton and Munholland (1999, 2008) stated that the internal working model of attachment is consistent with the investigations taking place in cognitive neuroscience along with social cognition. For instance, Gallese (2005) supports the idea of ‘small-scale experiments’’ establishes the internal working model along with a more recent suggestion that neurons allow primates to comprehend others’ actions via ‘embodied simulation’ Furthermore, it has also been shown that the model aligns with the theories of social cognition in regards to the development of internal representations from social experiences.

During the 44 thieves study, Bowlby aimed to explore whether maternal deprivation had any long-term effect on individuals and to see whether delinquents have also suffered from maternal deprivation as it crucial the mother maintains a healthy relationship with their child during the early stages of infancy (0-2 years) as the failure to do this may have long-lasting negative effects on the child’s social and emotional development in the future. He gathered eighty-eight children via opportunity sampling from a clinic where fourty four them were thieves. Bowlby found that half of the thieves had experienced separation from their mother for over a period of six months or longer during the first five years suggesting that attachment types could not be formed properly. Bowlby emphasises the idea that the attachment we have to our mothers is special and specific and it is the most important bond we have however, Schaffer and Emerson (964) implied that after eight months these infants became attached to multiple people and by eighteen months, they became attached to even more people which can be argued against monotropy. In addition, Weisner and Gallimore (977) claimed that there are several carers that are involved in taking care of children such as friends and neighbours. This proposes that maybe we do not need to specifically bond with our mothers to have a normal social and emotional development, but it is required to have a positive relationship with a caregiver in general. On the other hand, Bowlby’s maternal deprivation is supported by Harlow’s monkeys (1958) which illustrated that monkey’s that were brought up in isolation experienced social and emotional issues as they grew older. These monkey’s failed to make attachments and as a result grew up to become more irritated and isolated from other monkeys. This suggests that having a secure attachment with your child from an early age is important and maternal deprivation impacts the child in the near future.

Experiments and studies were conducted, predominantly on infants and younger children in order to examine the outcome and study behaviour in regards to attachments. Due to the use of infants and children, experiments were required to be tailored therefore observational methods came into use. One of the well-known psychologists, Mary Ainsworth et al (1971, 1878) who had previously worked with Bowlby formulated a method known as the Strange Situation Procedure (SSP) to study how different children may acquire different attachment types. After the study, three main attachment types were established; secure (type B) insecure avoidant (type A) and insecure resistant (type C) these attachment styles were the outcomes of initial interactions between the primary caregiver (mother) and child. Mary Ainsworth’s (1971, 1978) results and conclusions supported and provided evidence for Bowlby’s theory of attachment which was quite significant. For example, one of the attachment types that Ainsworth established during her investigation was securely attached (type B) these children maintain a positive working model of themselves and others due to the positive relations maintained with the mother from an early stage. In addition, insecure avoidant (type A) children may believe and interpret themselves as less worthy due to a denying mother who was not as able to tend to their children’s needs. Lastly, insecure resistant (type C) have lower self-esteem and usually emphasise their response in an emotional manner in order to attract attention and fulfil their needs. These attachment types are all linked to the working model and the positive relationships is linked through the working model as is the negative relationships caused with type C and type A.

The experiment took place in a normal room where the mother was asked to play with their child before introducing a stranger, the room had a one way mirror so that an observational study could be conducted covertly. The study involves the mother leaving their child alone in the room which could be claimed to have broken the ethical guidelines by putting infants under stress and anxiety as they experience however others argue that it is not an immense amount of stress and therefore does not break ethical guidelines. Although this procedure may have been useful in its time it has been criticised in regards to that it only recognises one specific attachment which is to its mother however, the child is able to have several different attachments with several different caregivers such as the father, grandmother therefore the study lacks validity due to the specificity of the attachment types. Furthermore, it is possible for children to change attachment types due to circumstances that may have occurred in their life for example, an insecurely attached child may become securely attached if the mother recovers from an illness or is able to provide for her children’s necessities. The sample of infants involved were 100 middle-classed American, aged between 12 and 18 months which one could argue that this makes the experiment culturally bias as it may be difficult to generalise the findings to a wider population outside of America. The apparatus and set up was done all in America and the findings may only applicable to Americans however, the attachment types may differ from culture to culture. For example, Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988) conducted a study to investigate how the attachment types different around the world and found that there were a few variations especially for Israeli children who were brought up in a Kibbutz therefore it was in the norm to be away from the mother. Consequently, they do not show signs of anxiousness when their mother leaves however they do show those signs around strangers which fits the insecure resistant attachment type.

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Bowlby’s research had many critiques and attacks however, he explained how crucial it is for a mother to maintain a healthy attachment with their child as it can influence their development and future behaviour. However, it is not necessary for the mother to be the only attachment in the child’s life and it is possible to have multiple caregivers. Different attachment types have been established according to Ainsworth which have been useful in identifying the different behaviours between different children, indicating sufficient evidence to assume that the relationship you have with your mother from an early age may determine your outcome as a grown individual. Bowlby and Ainsworth have both contributed tremendous amount of research for us today and while newer research is emerging, their initial theories will always be put into use.  

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Role Of Attachment In A Child Developmet: Analysis Of Bowlby’s And Ainsworth’s Theories. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
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