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Stages of Attachment

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Stages of Attachment

Many people believe that the first five years of life are the most critical for a child's development.

Attachments, without a doubt, play a part. But when do we develop these attachments?

The stages of attachment in infants are the developmental stages in which infants form attachments to their primary caregiver and others in their environment. Schaffer and Emerson (1964) developed the stages of attachment after observing infants in a longitudinal study.

Attachment is an emotional bond or tie that exists with another person, providing security and closeness. In the caregiver-infant relationship, attachment is a mutual emotional bond strengthened through reciprocal interactions.

Below, we will take a closer look at the stages of attachment.

The Schaffer and Emerson study (1964) on stages of attachment

Schaffer and Emerson noted the four stages of attachment in their 1964 study. You will find the details of the study below.

Aim of the Schaffer and Emerson study

Schaffer and Emerson wanted to determine at what age infants begin to form attachments. They also wanted to find out to whom these attachments infants form and how strong they are.

The procedure of the Schaffer and Emerson study

The researchers took a sample of 60 infants from a working-class neighbourhood in the Scottish city of Glasgow. As part of a longitudinal study, the researchers observed the babies at the following intervals:

  • Every four weeks during the baby's first year of life.

  • Once at 18 months of age.

The researchers observed the babies in their homes.

Stages of attachment Schaffer and Emerson study infants Study Smarter

Schaffer and Emerson studied the stages of attachment in infants, Pixabay

How did the researchers measure attachment?

The researchers measured attachment by observing the baby's behaviour in the following scenarios:

  • Separation anxiety

The researchers separated the baby from the primary caregiver. A distressed response from the baby indicates that attachment exists.

  • Stranger anxiety

The researchers left the baby with an unfamiliar person. A distressed reaction from the baby indicates that they recognise familiar and unfamiliar faces.

Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation procedure also used the stranger anxiety scenario. This procedure tested the attachment style of young children.

Findings of the Schaffer and Emerson study: the four stages of attachment in infants

Schaffer and Emerson found that babies develop a primary attachment to their mothers at 6-7 months. A secondary attachment to the father and other family members developed at about ten months.

By 18 months, 31% of babies had formed attachments to siblings, grandparents, neighbours, or other relatives. From these observations, Schaffer and Emerson concluded that infants go through the following stages of attachment.

Asocial

  • Age: 0-6 weeks.

  • Infants’ behaviours, such as crying or smiling, are simply for attention and are not directed toward a specific person.

  • Infants do not discriminate between people but may prefer people over other species.

Indiscriminate attachment

  • Age: 6 weeks 6 months.

  • Babies are usually happy to receive attention from anyone and do not yet resist strangers or unfamiliar people.

  • However, they respond more strongly to people familiar with the baby.

Specific attachment

  • Age: 7-9 months

  • Infants begin to experience and show separation anxiety from their primary caregiver.

  • A fear of strangers develops at this age.

Multiple attachments

  • Age: 10 months +.

  • Infants become interested in and attached to other people, such as grandparents, siblings, or familiar adults.

Conclusions of the Schaffer and Emerson study

Schaffer and Emerson concluded that infants go through each of the above attachment stages and that infants’ mothers are still the most crucial attachment figures at 18 months of age. Infants had a ‘hierarchy’ of other attachments based on how important each attachment was to the infant. The sensitive responsiveness of the adult determined the importance.

Sensitive responsiveness means responding to the infant’s signals, i.e., communicating with the infant, playing with the infant, and responding to the infant’s needs, such as crying for attention or asking for something (e.g., a toy or a favourite TV programme).

The researchers concluded that sensitive responsiveness is more critical in infants than who spends more time with the infant.

Stages of attachment Four stages of attachment StudySmarter

Schaffer and Emerson’s (1964) four stages of infant attachment, Shikha Shah - StudySmarter Originals (Images from Unsplash)

Evaluation of Schaffer and Emerson stages of attachment in infants

Strengths

  • The observational study had high ecological validity because the infants were observed in their homes. Their behaviour was natural.
  • Because the infants did not know they were being observed, there were no problems with demand characteristics.
  • The study method is replicable; the researchers visited the infants at regular intervals.

Weaknesses

  • The sample consisted of only 60 Glasgow working families; it is not representative of a broader population, and therefore the results are not generalisable.
  • Because parents knew they were being observed, they may have exhibited demand behaviour. This factor may have affected the validity of the results.
  • The results show that only 31% of infants had established multiple attachments by 18 months. This finding suggests that not all infants go through the same stages of attachment.

Stages of attachment: Schaffer & Emerson (1964) - Key takeaways

  • The stages of attachment in infants (Schaffer and Emerson, 1964) are developmental stages in which infants form attachments to their primary caregiver and others in their environment.
  • The researchers measured attachment by observing the behaviour of 60 infants who suffered from separation anxiety and fear of strangers in a longitudinal study.
  • Schaffer and Emerson concluded that infants go through the four stages of attachment: asocial, indiscriminate attachment, specific attachment, and multiple attachments.
  • Infants are more likely to form important attachments with those who exhibit high levels of sensitive responsiveness rather than with those who spend the most time with the infant.
  • The study and its results have high ecological validity, replicability and the infants displayed natural behaviour.
  • However, the sample size is not generalisable, parents may have shown demand characteristics, and only 31% of infants showed multiple attachments at 18 months of age. This suggests that not all infants pass through the stages.

Frequently Asked Questions about Stages of Attachment

  • The sample consisted of only 60 Glasgow working families; it is not representative of a broader population, and therefore the results are not generalisable.
  • Because parents knew they were being observed, they may have exhibited demand behaviour. This factor may have affected the validity of the results.
  • The results show that only 31% of infants had established multiple attachments by 18 months. This finding suggests that not all infants go through the same stages of attachment.

Schaffer and Emerson's (1964) four stages of attachment are: 

  • Asocial (0-6 weeks).
  • Indiscriminate attachment (6 weeks  – 7 months).
  • Specific attachment (7-9 months).
  • Multiple attachments (10 months +).

Schaffer and Emerson concluded that infants go through each of the above attachment stages and that infants’ mothers are still the most crucial attachment figures at 18 months of age. Infants had a ‘hierarchy’ of other attachments based on how important each attachment was to the infant. The sensitive responsiveness of the adult determined the importance. The also researchers concluded that sensitive responsiveness is more critical in infants than who spends more time with the infant.

  • The observational study had high ecological validity because the infants were observed in their homes. Their behaviour was natural.
  • Because the infants did not know they were being observed, there were no problems with demand characteristics.
  • The study method is replicable; the researchers visited the infants at regular intervals.

Final Stages of Attachment Quiz

Question

Define the stages of attachment.

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Answer

The stages of attachment in infants are stages of development during which infants form attachments to their primary caregiver and other people around them.

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Question

What was the aim of Schaffer and Emerson's 1964 study?

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Answer

Schaffer and Emerson aimed to find the age at which infants start forming attachments. They also wanted to find out with whom they formed these attachments and how strong they were.

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Question

What kind of study was used to observe the infants?

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Answer

The infants were observed using a longitudinal study.

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Question

What were the intervals at which the infants were observed?

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Answer

Researchers observed the babies at the following intervals; every four weeks for the first year of the baby’s life and once at 18 months.

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Where were the infants observed in the duration of the study?

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Answer

Researchers observed the infants in their homes.

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Question

In which two ways did the researchers measure infants’ attachment?

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Answer

The researchers measured attachment by observing the baby’s behaviour in the scenarios of separation anxiety and stranger anxiety.

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Question

At 18 months, what percentage of infants had multiple attachments formed with siblings, grandparents, neighbours, etc.?

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Answer

18%

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Question

Which stage of attachment describes the following attachment behaviours? What age is the infant at this stage of attachment?


  • Infants start to experience and demonstrate separation anxiety from their primary caregiver.
  • A fear of strangers is developed at this age.

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Answer

This stage of attachment is specific attachment, which occurs around the ages of 7-9 months.

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Question

According to the study, at what age do infants start forming multiple attachments?

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Answer

At the age of 10 months, infants start forming multiple attachments.

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Question

Who was the infants’ main attachment figure at 18 months?

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Answer

The infants’ mothers were still the main attachment figures at 18.

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Question

According to the researchers, who are infants more likely to form attachments to?

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Answer

The researchers concluded that sensitive responsiveness is more critical in infants than who spends more time with the infant. Sensitive responsiveness involves responding to the infant's signals includes communicating and playing with the infant and responding to its demands. Infants are more likely to form attachments to those who show higher levels of sensitive responsiveness.

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Question

Why did Schaffer and Emerson's study have high ecological validity?

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Answer

The observation study had high ecological validity as researchers observed the babies in their natural settings (their homes). Their behaviour was natural.

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Question

What is the method of the study replicable?

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Answer

The method of the study was replicable because researchers visited the infants at regular intervals. 

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Question

Why may the parents’ behaviour have affected the findings of the study?

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Answer

The parents may have shown demand characteristics as they knew they were being observed. This factor may have affected the validity of the results.

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Question

Outline the issue with the sample size of the study.

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Answer

The sample only consisted of 60 working-class Glaswegian families; it is not representative of a broader population, and therefore, the findings are not generalisable.

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