A relationship between an infant and its mother

A  secure attachment style developed in early childhood can determine future social interactions.  The research evidence of psychoanalyst John Bowlby (1907-1990), Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999) and Michael Lamb, et al, (1985) has attributed secure childhood attachments with the primary caregiver/mother as the child’s blueprint for all future behaviour.  Bowlby and Ainsworth identified three attachment styles through observation and experimentation with infants, toddlers and juveniles. The reliability of data collected from children is questioned by Kagan (1984) and, the mother as the infant’s primary attachment figure has been criticised by Marianne De Wolff and Marinus van IJzendoorn (1997).  Research by Waters, Wippman and Sroufe’s (1979) explores the continuity of infant and childhood attachment behaviours into adolescence. In addition, Cindy Hazan, Phillip Shaver (1987) and Mary Main (1980) have measured attachment style continuity throughout the life span.    Psychoanalyst John Bowlby (1969) identified four attachment styles, returning to the caregiver to receive comfort and safety when feeling threatened (safe haven), being able to explore the surroundings, whilst using the caregiver as a base of security (secure base), the need to be close to the primary caregiver (proximity maintenance), and when the caregiver is absent the child is anxious (separation distress). In 1944 Bowlby created the ’44 Thieves’ study, he hypothesised that the relationship between an infant and its mother during the first five years was critical, any interruption to this ‘Maternal bond’ resulted in emotional problems and antisocial behaviour (such as stealing). Bowlby found that more than half of the 44 criminal participants had been separated from their mother for a period longer than six months. Whilst, 32% of the adolescent criminals displayed signs of psychopathy. Bowlby concluded that maternal deprivation during the critical stage of a child’s life caused enduring emotional damage called ‘Affectionless Psychopathy’, characterised as a lack of concern for others, stunted emotional development and not being able to have enduring and meaningful relationships.  Bowlby’s attachment theory implies that infants can only become attached to one person (monotropy) and that this attachment being based on survival is to the infant’s mother, any interruption of this attachment during the critical period results in separation distress, is irreversible and has continuing consequences (maternal deprivation). For Bowlby Infant attachment behaviour such as crying, clinging and searching are evolutionary responses to being separated from the primary caregiver/mother, the person that provides food, comfort and protection. According to Bowlby attachment is a “lasting connectedness between humans” (Bowlby 1969). The attachment behaviours     Infants form an ‘internal working model’ of relationships that is used as a guide for their relationship behaviour. The primary caregiver’s interactions with the infant develops the child’s understanding of the ‘self’ and others as well as the world around them. Bowlby (1969), believed that at the age of three the internal working model consists of memories and expectations that impact and assist in the child’s contact with others, forming an essential part of the child’s personality. The internal working model has three main features (1) a model of others as honest, (2) a model of self-value, and (3) a model of effective interactions with others. Bowlby further argued that the primary caregiver was the architype for all future relationships through the internal working model, consequently, psychological representations that control all emotional and social behaviours are guided by the internal working model of the child when responding to others.  Expounding on Bowlby’s research Mary Ainsworth designed the ‘stranger situation classification’ (SSC), identifying three main attachment styles (1) secure, (2) insecure avoidant, and (3) insecure ambivalent. She argued that the early interactions between an infant and its mother resulted in one of the afore mentioned attachment styles. Like Bowlby, Ainsworth concluded that a securely attached infant uses the attachment figure as a safe base, becomes upset when the attachment figure is absent and is happy to be comforted when the caregiver returns, and they feel safe again. Ainsworth also agreed that infants that develop secure attachments receive suitable and sensitive responses and signals from their primary caregiver (Ainsworth 1979). Both Bowlby and Ainsworth espoused the caregiver sensitivity theory, the mother playing an integral part in the child’s character and personality development.       Caregiver sensitivity theory places the mother as the central attachment figure, Wolff and Van Ijzendoorn (1997) conducted a Meta-analysis of attachment types research, their aim being to confirm the caregiver sensitivity theory. They concluded that there is no evidence of a connection between a child’s attachment style and the mother’s sensitivity or lack thereof. In addition, Wolff and Van Ijzendoorn suggest that there could be another cause for infant attachment styles and that the current research has placed too much emphasis on the relationship between infant and mother. In contrast, after observing babies every four weeks for a year and then again at eighteen months, Schaffer and Emerson (1964) argued that infants show attachment behaviour to many different people during the critical period including their fathers and grandparents. However, they did agree with Bowlby that once the infant has formed an attachment to a person, separation distress is shown when that person is not in their immediate view. Michael Rutter (1981) also disagreed with Bowlby, after surveying research on privation, Rutter proposed that Bowlby had misused the term ‘maternal deprivation’ pointing out that loss or damage of an attachment is deprivation, whilst the failure to form an attachment is privation. Rutter further argued that it is deficiency of social experiences and intellectual stimulation that would normally by found in attachment relationships and not lack of infant attachment to the caregiver/mother (as Bowlby claimed), that results in the inability to form lasting relationships. In addition, when an insecure child has access to love and care after the critical period the insecurities can be reversed. However, Michael Lamb et al (1985) after conducting a meta- analysis of research across America concluded that there is evidence to suggest that caregiver sensitivity is critical to healthy development, a sensitive and responsive mother does result in secure attachment. Ainsworth’s SSC has been viewed as empirical validation of Bowlby’s attachment theory, however it has been criticised for not recognising that children will show different attachment behaviours on different occasions e.g. a securely attached child may appear insecurely attached as a reflection of changing family circumstances. Moreover, Kagan (1984) argued that some children are innately friendly, and some are not, this can affect how the child develops, how the mother tries to meet the child’s needs, and how the child’s temperament impacts upon the relationship with its mother/caregiver (temperament hypothesis) (Kagan, 1984 cited by Eysenck, 2013). In addition, putting a child into a distressing situation such as separation from their caregiver could be viewed under the ethical guidelines as having broken the rule on protection of participant (BPS, 2010). Nevertheless, Ainsworth’s research adds credence to Bowlby’s theory of attachment, styles,  however, like Bowlby her focus was on infant attachment, other researchers have explored how infant attachment impacts adolescent and adult relationships.     Adolescents and Adults use the attachment behaviours learned in childhood to guide their social interactions. Waters, Wippman and Sroufe (1979) conducted a longitudinal study with a group of children at fifteen months, measuring the quality of their attachment to the mother, then observed them at three and a half, and again at sixteen years old. They found that children that had been securely attached to their mothers at fifteen months presented good social skills with their peers, displayed sensitivity and were social leaders at aged three. In addition, in adolescence secure children maintained their social skills, developed close friendships and have healthy peer relationships.  Conversely, adolescents that engage less with their peers and were emotionally withdrawn had been insecurely attached at fifteen months (Waters, Wippman and Sroufe cited by Shaffer and Kipp p.465). During adolescence attachment figures are usually those who share similar ways of dress and mind set, this allows the adolescent to develop adult attachment styles, forming long-term relationships with their peers that can develop into romantic ones.  Hazan and Shaver’s (1987) ‘love quiz’ explored the continuity of infant attachment types and adult attitudes towards romantic relationships their research suggested that children who had secure infant attachments go on to develop secure romantic relationships. Insecure children, whose mothers had rejected them developed insecure adult relationships where jealousy and fear of rejection were paramount.  Their results were like that of Main (1980) who created Adult Attachment interviews (AAI), they found that the participants that had reported secure infant attachment to their primary caregiver were inclined to have lasting relationships and those that had insecure attachment had problems with adult interactions. Both the ‘love quiz and AAI interviews suggest that attachment is continuous affecting people over long periods of time and the attachment styles developed in childhood continue to impact adolescent and adult relationships.    In conclusion, the research evidence outlined, seems to suggest that the consequence of secure attachments in early childhood is healthy socio-cognitive development, leading to healthy adolescent and adult friendships and romantic relationships.  Whilst the consequences of an insecure infant attachments are a lack social skills and have problems developing healthy friendships and adult romantic relationships. The strongest evidence for infant attachment was the ‘stranger situation’ experiment by Ainsworth. However, when researching with children their innate temperament must be considered before drawing conclusions. Nevertheless, the research evidence does seem to imply that secure attachments are paramount for healthy lifespan development.