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Attachment and Later Relationships

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Attachment and Later Relationships

In this article, we will explore how early attachment affects later relationships in life. According to Ainsworth (1989), attachment is defined as a sustained emotional tie between a child and a primary caregiver (also known as the main attachment figure) whom the child uses as a safe base to explore their surroundings.

Attachment and Later Relationships Family attachment StudySmarter

Family attachment, freepik/flaticon.com

Attachment and later relationships – attachment theory

Attachment theory was developed as a result of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s collaboration (Ainsworth and Bowlby, 1991).

The core tenet of attachment theory is that the quality of a child’s connection to their primary caregiver has an impact on the child’s later relationships and social interactions. The nature of a child's attachment bond with their primary caregiver, according to Bowlby (1973; 1980), determines the child's beliefs and expectations about themselves, the world and relationships with people which is also known as the internal working model.

The internal working model is a mental representational framework for comprehending the environment, oneself, and others. Memories and expectations from a person's internal model direct their interactions with others, influencing and assisting in the evaluation of those interactions. According to Bowlby (1951), a child's ability to self-regulate develops during the early years, and the child's superego and ego are the major caregivers at this time. In the child's first human relationship, the formation of ego and superego is thus deemed critical.

Types of attachment

Ainsworth and Bell (1970) designed a strange situation test to assess the attachment types between a child and their primary caregiver. Secure and insecure attachment were discovered using this test in the Ganda research (1967) and the Baltimore Project (1969), with insecure attachment classified into three categories: insecure-avoidant, insecure-anxious/ambivalent, and disorganised attachment.

  • Insecure attachment (Type A): Ainsworth identified the insecure-avoidant attachment pattern utilising the Strange Situation. This attachment style is open to new experiences but not interested in being close to the caregiver. They have little separation anxiety and stranger anxiety, and when reunited with their mother, they do not initiate eye contact. This connection style is seen in 21% of children.

  • Secure attachment (Type B): Ainsworth also identified the Secure Attachment attachment pattern utilising the Strange Situation. This attachment style is open to new experiences but also prefers to be close to the caregiver. They exhibit considerable separation anxiety as well as the apprehension of strangers. When they are reunited with their mother, they both make and require touch. This connection style is seen in 65% of children.

  • Insecure-ambivalent/anxious (resistant) attachment (Type C): Children with this form of attachment classification would be distressed if their mothers left them, and were hostile to their mothers upon their return. Equally, the mothers themselves were mostly ambivalent (they had mixed or contradictory behaviours, actions, and feelings) to their infants overall, which affected the relationship between the infant and the mother as a whole.

The severity of the insecure attachment type varies based on the child's history of caregiving. Children who are insecure can be avoidant, indifferent, or disorganised.

  • Insecure avoidant children have had caregivers who have been dismissive of them, leading them to expect others to be dismissive of them in the future. As a result, they can be aggressive in their demeanour, causing their peers to socially exclude them (Sroufe, 2005; Sroufe et al., 1999; Ojanen & Perry, 2007).

  • Insecure-ambivalent/anxious children have had inconsistent caregiving, and as a result, they are more likely to engage in manipulative behaviour such as relativism.

  • Children with insecure-disorganised attachment are more likely to withdraw or act aggressively in social situations because their caregivers are either neglectful, depressed or abusive.

Attachment and Later Relationships Types of attachment diagramStudySmarter

Types of attachment diagram, Tyler Smith, StudySmarter Originals

Effect of attachment on later relationships

Attachment in childhood can have a profound effect on people’s expectations and attitudes towards social relationships in the future.

Friendship and peer relationships

Children who are securely bonded to their caregivers during their early childhood are more socially competent, according to studies.

The Minnesota study (2005), for example, tracked people from infancy to late adolescence and discovered a link between early attachment and later emotional/social conduct. Later in childhood, securely attached children were rated higher for social ability, were less lonely, and were more popular than insecurely attached children.

Children with a secure attachment type, according to Hartup et al. (1993), are more popular at nursery and participate in more social contact with other children. Insecurely attached children, on the other hand, are more reliant on instructors for social interaction and emotional support.

Parenting styles

According to research, there is intergenerational continuity between adult attachment types and their offspring, with children inheriting their parents' parenting methods. People's parenting styles are often based on their internal working models, hence attachment type is often passed down through generations.

Bailey (2007) research into early attachment and later relationships discovered that the majority of women had the same attachment type to their newborns as they had to their own moms.

Because they lacked an internal working model, Harlow's monkeys (1958) demonstrated a relationship between poor attachment and later parenting issues.

Adulthood romantic relationships

Adult relationship research has expanded to include intimate and passionate interactions (Weiss & Duncan, 1992). People are more likely to end up in a romantic relationship with a partner who confirms their beliefs about attachment relationships based on their early attachment experience with their caregivers.

Early attachment styles are likely to be reflected in adult relationships. This is because a person's formative experiences with their caregiver lead to the anticipation of similar experiences in later relationships. The love quiz experiment by Hazan and Shaver (1987) exemplifies this.

They carried out research to learn about participants' early attachment styles and attitudes toward romantic partnerships. They discovered that those who were securely attached as newborns tended to have long-term relationships; on the other hand, those who were insecurely attached as infants found adult relationships more challenging, were more likely to divorce and believed love was rare.

The study has been criticised for its issues with reductionism (reducing complex phenomena to their simplest form), as it suggests that early relationships and behaviours will dictate adult relationships.

Attachment and Later Relationships Romantic Adult Relationship Attachment StudySmarter

Romantic adult relationship attachment, freepik/flaticon.com

The temperament hypothesis

Something to consider is the temperament hypothesis. This was proposed by Kagan (1982), and it suggests that infants have an innate personality type, which essentially means that they were born with a certain personality type. Some are born with friendly traits which aid the maternal bonding process, whereas some are born with the opposite traits, which harms or makes the bonding process more difficult. They may not seek comfort from their parents as much as other children. This impacts the relationship and how it develops, and babies and mothers will not be as securely attached to one another.

Attachment and Later Relationships - Key takeaways

  • Attachment is defined as a sustained emotional tie between a child and a primary caregiver.
  • The core tenet of attachment theory is that the quality of a child’s connection to their primary caregiver has an impact on the child’s later relationships and social interactions.
  • Children who are securely bonded to their caregivers during their early childhood are more socially competent, according to studies.
  • Insecure attachment is classified into three categories: insecure-avoidant, insecure-anxious/ambivalent, and disorganised attachment.
  • Later relationships can be affected by insecure attachment. People are likely to end up with partners who confirm their beliefs about attachment based on their experience.
  • The temperament hypothesis suggests infants are born with an innate personality type, and this can either aid the attachment process between parent and child (if the child has an innate, friendly personality), or harm the attachment process (if the child has a difficult personality).

Frequently Asked Questions about Attachment and Later Relationships

Yes, people's attachment to their parents can affect their future relationships.

The four relationship attachment styles are secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-ambivalent and disorganised attachment.

Adults with attachment disorders find adult relationships challenging, are more likely to divorce, and believe love is rare.

Attachment issues in relationships affect people's ability to form secure attachments in the future.

Final Attachment and Later Relationships Quiz

Question

What are the internal working models?

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Answer

Internal working models are the mental representation we all carry of our attachment to our primary caregiver. They affect our future relationships because they convey our idea of relationships. 

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How did Bowlby relate the first relationship of a child to future relationships?

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Bowlby suggested a child has their first relationship with their primary caregiver. It forms a mental representation of this relationship; this internal working model will function as a model for future relationships.

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How were attachment studies used at the beginning of its application?

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Early on, the context of attachment applied to children was studied in the field of developmental psychology.

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Who has related the model to romantic relationships in adulthood?

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The concept was extended to adulthood, and Hazan and Shaver extended the attachment theory on adult relationships.


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How did Hazan and Shaver understand the application of attachment theory in romantic relationships?




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Hazan and Shaver conducted research to understand the application of attachment theory to adult romantic relationships.

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When did Hazan and Shaver conduct the research to understand the applications of attachment theory in romantic relationships?


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In 1987.

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What was the Hazan and Shaver model when conducting their research?

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Hazan and Shaver designed a ‘love quiz’.

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What were the three aspects of intimate relationships the quiz identified?

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The love quiz identified three aspects of intimate relationships: essential relationships, general love experiences, and attachment styles.

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Where were the love quizzes applied?

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The love quiz was printed and applied in a local American newspaper.

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What do secure lovers believe concerning long-term relationships?

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Secure lovers believed that love would never diminish.

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Which kind of relationship did secure lovers establish around their caregivers?

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Secure lovers had warmer relationships with parents during childhood.

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How did insecure-avoidant feel about their partners?

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Avoidant lovers were frequently uncertain about their feelings concerning their partners.

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Did insecure-avoidant people report falling in love?

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Yes, but they also reported feeling challenged to fall in love.

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How did insecure-resistant lovers detail their relationships?

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Insecure resistant or ambivalent lovers describe their most significant romantic relationships as obsessive, aiming for mutual feelings, emotional instability, intense sexual attractiveness, and jealousy.

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What is attachment?

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Attachment is a sustained emotional tie between a child and a primary caregiver (also known as the main attachment figure) whom the child uses as a safe base to explore their surroundings.

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What are the types of attachment?

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There are two main types of attachment: secure and insecure attachment, classified into three categories: insecure-avoidant, insecure anxious/ambivalent, and disorganised attachment.

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Describe attachment theory.

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Answer

John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth developed the attachment theory in collaboration (Ainsworth and Bowlby, 1991). The core idea of attachment theory is that the quality of a child's relationship with their primary caregiver influences the child's later relationships and social interactions. 

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Question

Does early childhood attachment affect later relationships?

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Answer

Studies have shown that early childhood experiences affect future relationships (e.g., peer relationships, romantic relationships, and even parenting styles). The nature of a child's attachment bond with their primary caregiver determines their beliefs and expectations about themselves, the world and relationships with others. 

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What is a secure attachment?

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A secure attachment is when a child has a healthy attachment to their caregiver.

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What is an insecure attachment?

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Insecure attachments are dysfunctional attachment types.

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What are the characteristics of the insecure-avoidant attachment type?

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The characteristics of children with insecure-avoidant attachment type are aggressive and antisocial behaviour due to dismissive caregivers, which makes them expect others to be dismissive.

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What are the characteristics of the insecure-ambivalent attachment type?

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Children with insecure-ambivalent attachment are more likely to act aggressively or withdraw since their caregiver offered inconsistent care.

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True or false: Children with a secure attachment type are more socially competent.

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True

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Which Study discovered the link between parenting styles and childhood attachment styles?

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Bailey (2007)

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How does childhood attachment affect later relationships?

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People are more likely to end up with a partner that confirms their attachment expectations based on their childhood experiences.

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What are the characteristics of the insecure-disorganised attachment type?

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Children with insecure-disorganised attachment are more likely to withdraw or act aggressively in social situations because their caregivers are either neglectful, depressed or abusive.

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What percentage of children have a secure attachment with their parents?

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65% of children have a secure attachment with their parents.

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Who designed the strange situation test?

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Ainsworth and Bell designed the strange situation test.

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What did Harlow's monkey study find out about attachment issues and parenting?

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The monkey study found a link between attachment issues and poor parenting.

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