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 food are the first things any living being needs. Babies have an inbuilt ability to promote care from the people around them; according to Bowlby they do this by smiling, crying, gazing, grasping, clinging and babbling. He also believed that this is a two-way relationship, as the mother also has a need to feel close to her child.
John Bowlby did a lot of work with children. He felt that it was important for the newborn baby to form an attachment to their mother or the main caregiver. If an attachment was not made he believed that this would lead to adverse effects in later life; the child could have problems developing educationally and socially, and so would have problems throughout its life in making friends and forming intimate relationships. Mary Ainsworth was another psychologist who believed it was important for a baby to make an attachment to its main caregiver.
She defined attachment as ‘an affectional tie or bond that an individual… forms between him self and another individual’. (Ainsworth) In the mid-1970’s Marshall Klaus and John Kennel carried out an experiment with a group of new mothers. They wanted to see if the amount of time that a mother and baby spent together immediately after the birth had any bearing on the child’s attachment later in life. They studied twenty-eight mothers who were about to give birth.
They divided the mothers into two groups; the first group would follow the normal hospital routine; they saw their babies for a few minutes after the birth and then did not see the babies until six to twelve hours later, after they had been cleaned up and had a sleep. The second group would have contact with their babies for an additional sixteen hours, over the usual time. A month later Klaus and Kennel went to see all the new mothers and filmed them when they were feeding and changing their babies.
After observation they felt that the mothers who had had extended contact with their babies, while convalescing in hospital, seemed to have an emotionally closer bond with their child. Klaus and Kennel observed that these mothers cuddled the babies more, held them closer when feeding and had better eye contact. They visited both groups of mothers again eleven months later, and found there was still a closer bond within the extended contact group; they also observed that these babies were physically bigger and stronger. Klaus and Kennel visited five of the family groups from the two original groups two years later.
They found the differences were still there and that the mothers from the extended contact group spoke more to their children and the children seemed to respond better. This experiment has been replicated by other psychologists, but they have not all produced the same findings and so the debate still goes on. However, mothers do now spend more time with their new born babies in hospital. In 1964, Rudi Schaffer and Peggy Emerson carried out a study of sixty Glasgow children, aged between birth and eighteen months. They wanted to find out if a child could attach to more than one carer.
The parents were asked questions about the child’s social relationships; who do they smile most at? who do they seem to want to be with when they are happy? And who when they are sad? It seemed that the children went through distinct stages. The first stage was up to about six weeks. In this stage the baby did not mind who looked after him. Over the next twenty-four weeks the baby became more and more sociable and responded well to strangers. But by seven months the child was showing signs that it liked to be with a main carer. The child was becoming wary of strangers.
Schaffer and Emerson felt that by this time they were forming their first attachments. Over the following months the child would slowly start to trust other people again. Schaffer and Emerson felt that the child would eventually prefer different carers to meet its different needs, for instance it might want to be with its mother when it needed to be comforted, but its father when it wanted to play rough and tumble. The findings of the Glasgow report did not agree with Bowlby’s claims that a child could only attach to one main carer.
Schaffer and Emerson’s study showed that the child could attach to several people, quite often not the mother at all; some of the children preferred the company of an older sibling. By eighteen months thirty-six of the babies from Glasgow had formed an attachment to two people and twenty-five of them had formed an attachment with up to five caregivers. This seems to show that babies can form an attachment to several people at the same time. This study does not say however what the children were like in later life, i. e. if they developed well educationally or socially.