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Attachment is a strong emotional bond between an infant and their caregiver.

'Securely attched' infants will show a desire to be close to their primary carergiver .

They'll show less distress when they're seperated, and pleasure when their reunited.

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Features of caregiver-infant interaction

Sensitive responseness - The care giver responds appropriately to signals from the infant.

Imitation - The infant copies the caregiver's actions and behaviour. 

Interactional syncrony - Infants react in time with the caregiver's speech, resulting in a 'conversation dance'.

Recipocity - Interaction flows back and forth between the caregiver and infant.

Motherses - The slow, high-pitched way of speaking to infants. However, there is no evidence that this influences the strength of an attachment between parent and infant.

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Schaffer identified stages in attachment foundation. 

Pre-attachment phase - During the first 1-3 months of life, the baby learns to seperate people from objects but doesn't have any stron preferences about who cares for it.

The indiscriminate attachment phase - Between 6 weeks and 7 months the infant starts to clearly distinguish and recognise different people, smiling more at people it knows than at strangers. However, there is still no strong preferences about who cares for it.

The discriminate attachment phase - From 7-11 months the infant becomes able to form a strong attachment with an individual. This is shown by being content when that person is around, distressed when they leave & happy when they return. It may be scared of strangers and avoid them.

The multiple attachment phase - From around 9 months the infant can form attachments to many different people. Some attachments may be stronger than others and have different functions, e.g. play or comfort, but there doesn't seem to be  limit to the number of attachments it can make. Although, Schaffer found that after 18 months, approximately 32% of babies had at least five attachments, the original attachment is the strongest.

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Schaffer and Emerson (1964)

Provides evidence for attachment phases.


  • 60 babies were observes in their homes in Glasgow every 4 weeks from birth to about 18 months. 
  • Interviews also conducted with their family.


  • Schaffer's stages of attachment formation were found to occur. 
  • Also, at 8 months of age about 50 of the infants had more than one attachment. 
  • About 20 of them either had no attachment with their mother or had a stronger attachment with someone else, even though the mother was the main carer.


  • Infants form attachments in stages and can eventually attach to many people.
  • Quality of care is important in forming attachments, so the infant may not attch to their mother if other people respond more accurately to its signals.
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Evaluation of Schaffer and Emerson (1964)

There is lots of evidence to support Shaffer and Emerson's findings, but there are also criticisms of the study. For example, Schaffer and Emerson used a limited sample, and evidence from interviews and observations may be biased and unreliable.

There are also cross-culteral differences that should be considered. Tronick et al (1992) found that infants in Zaire had a strong attachment with their mother by 6 months of age but didn't have strong attachments with others, when though they had several carers.

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The Father

Schaffer and Emerson (1964) found that the attachment between caregiver and infant varied acrss the infants. The mother was the primary attachment for only half of the infants. A third of the infants preferred their father, whist the rest had their strongest attachment with their grandparents or siblings.

Goodsell and Meldrum (2009) conducted a large study into the realtionship between infants and their fathers. They found that those with a secure attachment to their mother are also more likely to have a secure attachment to their father.

Ross et al (1975) showed that the number of nappies a father changed was positively correlated to the strength of their attachment. This was supported by a study by Caldera (2004) who investigated 60 fathers and mothers and their 14 month old infants. Caldera found out that when the father was involved in care-giving activities, they were much more likely to develop a strong attachment with their child.

But there is research which suggests the role a mother and father plays can be different. Geiger (1996) suggested that a mother's relationship is primarily nurturing and caring, but a father's relationship is more focused around play.

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