Attachment Security in Infancy and Early Childhood

The development of attachment relationships between children and parents represents one of the most important aspects of human social and emotional development. Depending on the degree or nature of the initial developing relationship, a child’s personality and/or social experiences can be affected (Rutter, 1989, 1990) i.e. enhanced or damaged. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth are two of the most prominent theorists in the field of the attachments. Bowlby’s theory of attachment represents the most comprehensive theory of human interaction.

Influenced by the theories of both Freud and the ethnologists he formulated the basic tenets of the theory suggesting that a child’s subsequent socio-emotional well-being can be affected by disruptions in the patterns of early infant care (Bowlby, 1973, 1980). His observations led him to believe that so-called deviant adolescents were the result of serious disruptions and the pattern of parental care administered to them in childhood.

Mary Ainsworth on the other hand, adopted Bowlby’s theory and along with her colleges (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978), devised the ‘Strange Situation’. The Strange Situation Procedure (SSP) is a highly reliable and valid standardised laboratory procedure that measures variability in patterns of attachment security in infants aged between 12 and 24 months, it is the most widely used standardised procedure for studying attachment, a method involving infants and parents to be placed in various situations in order to encourage attachment behaviours. As a result, classification of behaviour is then designated i.e. Type A (anxious avoidant), Type B (securely attached) or Type C (anxious ambivalent). Her innovative mythology not only made it possible to test Bowlby’s theories but also helped in the expansion of the theory itself.

In addition to Ainsworth’s categorical attachment classifications, the ‘Berkeley Adult Attachment Interview’ coincides with examining behaviour although the primary targets in this case are adults (George, Kaplan & Main 1985). The methodological framework behind the AAI involves interviewing techniques by means of obtaining information regarding early attachment experiences and current opinions on attachments. Based upon responses, adults are then assigned to either one of four categories; Secure-autonomous, Dismissing, Preoccupied or unresolved.


The study under review is based on a twenty year longitudinal study aimed in assessing potential changes in attachment relationships from infancy to adulthood when exposed to ‘negative life events’ e.g. parental divorce, and to stimulate further research. The researches have based their investigation on Bowlby’s theory of attachment, employing Ainsworth’s ‘Strange Situation’ in addition to utilising Berkeley’s AAI. The present findings show that changes in attachments from infancy to adulthood occur when ‘negative life events’ have been experienced. Further analysis would examine both the stability of attachment in other populations and the mechanisms involved in change.


As the paper hypothesised, changes in attachment patterns correlate directly with experiencing negative life events. As shown, a relationship between experiencing negative life events and changing attachment security is evident however causality is not necessarily negatively skewed; results indicate that possibilities to prevail initial behaviour patterns is probable. This conclusion is supported by Sroufe (1988) who stated that a stable relationship with a supportive partner can have the ability to reverse attachment patterns from insecure to secure.

Although the paper shows a significant result, the sample size may not entirely represent a significant enough population. 32 out of the 50 had experienced no NLE, therefore these result can not be included, leaving only the 18 remaining being relevant to the hypothesis. However, it must be noted at this point, middle-class participants where used in the study, this enabled the full co-operation and overall general interest of participants to be re-contacted, in addition, representing a large segment of the population. The maintenance of sample sizes in longitudinal study has its difficulties but overcome relatively due these factors.

John Bowlby (1907-90), who was one of the leading psychologists in childcare believes, when a baby is born it is important for it to form a close bond to someone to ensure its survival. The need for warmth safety and …

Takahashi (1990) replicated Ainsworth’s strange situation technique in Japan with the aim of investigating cross-cultural differences in attachment. Takahashi wanted to know if the results Ainsworth found in the USA were the same in Japan, thus showing if there was …

One of the most influential accounts of the development of attachment is by Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson in 1964. They suggested that there are three main stages to the attachment process. Stage 1: Which is from birth to 6 …

Again, as the paper essentially lacked participating figures, the embodying of two divergent forms of interpreting and presenting results was therefore manifested. It was noted firstly that 64% were assigned to corresponding classifications in infancy to adulthood, meaning, classification remained …

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