Psychological Research

What has Psychological Research told us About the Development and Variety of Attachment Behaviour in Infants? Evaluate Two Studies in Terms of Methodology and Ecological Validity. Two key investigations into attachment development in infants are the study conducted by Schaffer and Emerson (1964) and the study conducted by Ainsworth and Bell (1970). These investigations researched the ages of the first attachment (to see if there was a common process in making attachments), the strength of the attachments and the individual differences in attachment behaviours.

Schaffer and Emerson (1964) aimed to find out when infants made their first attachment, which person they became attached to, how strong the attachment was, and whether or not there were common behaviours seen between the individual infants. They used sixty participants from the working-class sector of Glasgow, and chose to use both observation and interview as their data collection techniques. At first the infants were monitored in their own homes every four weeks, then at one year old and once more at eighteen months old.

They looked for a characteristic, defined by Maccoby (1980), which showed the presence of an attachment- separation anxiety. If the infant showed signs of stress when their primary caregiver left the room then this was a signal that there was an attachment between the infant and the carer. This observation to rate the strength of attachment (if present) was carried out through interviewing the mothers. Schaffer and Emerson used a set of questions related to seven situations where separation protest may occur, and asked to whom the protest was directed (whether it was the primary caregiver or another person).

The second way of measuring the attachment was to see if stranger anxiety was present. Stranger anxiety (stress shown through whimpering or crying when a stranger approaches the infant), according to Bowlby (1969) indicates the phase known as ‘Specific Attachments’. This is where the main attachment has been formed, and differs from the previous phase ‘Attachment-in-the-making’ where there is no sign of anxiety or distress around strangers.

The results from this experiment showed that the age of the first attachment for half the infants studied was between six and eight months. At this point there was obvious separation anxiety when the primary caregiver left the infant. One month after this in all the cases there was evidence of stranger anxiety. The first attachment figure was for 65% of the participants the mother, only 3% the father, and for 30% the mother and father were a joint primary attachment.

It was shown that in 13% of the cases by the final observations at 18 months the infant remained with only one figure of attachment, all the other participants however had formed further attachments after the initial one. The strength of the attachment made was shown to reach a peak within the first month after being made. Here there was evidence of individual differences, where infants with highly responsive mothers were intensely attached, and infants with unresponsive mothers who failed to interact were only weakly attached.

From these findings Schaffer and Emerson were able to conclude three key things. The first is that specific attachments are first made at seven months in a majority of infants. The second conclusion is that after this initial specific attachment is made multiple attachments then follow. The third is that attachments are generally made with individuals who are prepared to play and interact with the infant, rather than just the person who is most often present.

This was found when the results showed that the person who did not usually bathe, feed and change the infant was the primary attachment in 39% of the cases. The method used by Schaffer and Emerson has high ecological validity and mundane realism as the experiment took place in a real life setting (the participant’s own homes) and the questions of the interview were relevant to everyday life (such as, if the mother left the baby in it’s pram outside a shop, would it seek attention or become anxious).

The experiment was also able to prove the hypothesis that separation protest and stranger anxiety are existent and relevant to the recognition of attachments. Other important points that substantiate the validity of the study is the time over which it took place- being a longitudinal study true development can be shown, the fact that the mothers were interviewed allows psychologists to see first hand opinions and data, and because it was an observational study there is more first hand data that is more in depth than what would otherwise be expected.

However, overall the experiment does not aid psychology to a great extent when explaining the development of attachments and the variety of behaviours shown. The study took place in 1964 and so is historically biased, meaning that the conclusions drawn from the findings may not still be applicable today. The family situation at home differs from years ago with more single parents and younger mothers.

This could affect the formation of attachments, especially as multiple attachments are unlikely to be achieved if the infant is only ever in contact with one person (it’s primary carer) on a regular basis. These findings strictly show how infants would make attachments in the urban setting of middle-class Glasgow in the 1960s. If the same experiment was to be carried out in the same place today, or in a different cultural area, or a different class the results may be different.

As there are so many confounding variables possible we are unable to take the statements put forward by Schaffer and Emerson to be true for infants as a whole. Ainsworth and Bell (1970) formed ‘The Strange Situation’ in their aim to produce a method that could easily assess the quality of an infant’s attachment with it’s mother by provoking behaviours such as seeking comfort and exploration. There were one hundred participants from middle-class America used in this experiment, and once again the main method of data collection was through observation.

This experiment, unlike Schaffer and Emerson’s, took place in a laboratory, which was set up to look like an average living room with a set of toys. There were eight steps to the procedure which showed the infant’s reaction to being introduced to the room with the mother present, meeting a stranger with the mother present, being left alone with the stranger, being reunited with the mother, being left alone in the room, being left alone with the stranger once more, and then finally being reunited again with the mother.

The behaviours that were being looked for were separation anxiety (if the child was distressed when it’s mother left the room on any occasion), the willingness of the infant to explore the room and the toys available, whether there was any stranger anxiety (both with the mother present and without), and what the infant’s attitude was when being reunited with the mother (how the infant greeted the mother, either negatively or positively). The observational findings allowed Ainsworth and Bell to class the infants into three groups judged by their reactions to ‘The Strange Situation’.

These three groups were ‘Securely Attached’ (66% of the infants), ‘Avoidant-Insecure’ (22% of the infants), and ‘Resistant-Insecure’ (12% of the infants). The securely attached infants were willing to explore the unfamiliar room, showed moderate stranger anxiety but were friendly if the mother was present, displayed some separation anxiety but were easy to soothe, and were enthusiastic upon reunion with the mother. The mother was described by the researchers as being sensitive.

The avoidant-insecure infants were also willing to explore the room, however did not appear to have much stranger anxiety, nor did they seem distressed at separation from the mother. When the mother returned they tried to avoid contact with her. The mother was said to sometimes ignore the infant. The resistant-insecure group were distressed at being in the new room and so were unwilling to explore, they were highly distressed both by the presence of the stranger and by separation from the mother. When the mother returned they rejected her, showing patterns of interest and then resistance.

The mother appeared ambivalent towards the infant. Ainsworth and Bell concluded that due to these three different classified groups there were significant individual differences between the infants. The attachment type the child fell under appeared to have a link to the behaviour the mother showed towards the child- sensitive mothers were likely to have securely attached infants, whilst ambivalent mothers were more likely to have resistant-insecure children, and mothers who tended to ignore the child would have avoidant-insecure children.

Unlike Schaffer and Emerson, Ainsworth and Bell set their experiment in a laboratory. This meant it was slightly artificial and did not have the same mundane realism as the previous study, however it did provide standardisation. This adds to the validity of the results as the infants are all participating and being observed in the same setting; this eliminates any confounding variables, such as the infants being more or less comfortable in their own homes. Setting the study in a laboratory also takes away the ecological validity of the experiment as it is not long showing the results that would be expected in real life.

It becomes artificial and so may show slightly differing results to that of an experiment set in the child’s usual home. Like Schaffer and Emerson’s experiment, this is historically, geographically and socially biased. The participants were all middle-class Americans from the 1970s. If the investigation was carried out with a different group of people the results could vary considerably. Because of this, the conclusions drawn can only be applicable to this set of participants. Both investigations offer a key insight into the way attachments are formed and the behaviours linked with attachments.

This research is important as it can lead onto further research and acts as a set of comparative results to what other psychologists may learn from their own studies. As these results are biased in many ways, they cannot be used to represent infants as a whole, but they do offer interesting findings on these sets of participants (working-class Americans, and working-class Glaswegians). These results would be most useful to compare with infants from other parts of the world to see whether cultural forms of nurture or other practises found only in foreign countries have an effect on the age in which attachments are made and how strong they are.

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 …

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 …

Attachment is a strong, reciprocal, emotional bond between an infant and their caregiver that is characterised by the desire to maintain proximity. Attachments take different forms, such as secure or insecure. Infants display attachment through the degree of separation distress …

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 …

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