Caregiver-infant interactions in the development of attachment

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What causes different patterns of attachment?

  • Genetics appear to only play a weak role in the development of a child's attachment type (O'Connor and Croft, 2001)
  • It's more likely that nurture plays an important role in shaping social experiences
  • Psychologists are interested in 1) The way caregiver-infant interactions result in attachment to particular people 2) The way that caregiver-infant interactions could result in different types of attachment
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Nature of interactions during infancy

  • Bowlby suggested that the amount of social interaction with a person will influence the strength of attachment, and he stressed the importance of caregivers responding to infant distress (1971)
  • Similarly, Schaffer identified caregiver responsiveness to infant signals as the most important determiner of attachment, and second to this, the amount of interaction with the infant (1971)
  • Five stages in the development of caregiver-infant interaction have been identified by Schaffer (2003):

Birth (Biological regulation)--> Infants basic biological processes are harmonised with parental requirements (eg eating, sleeping.)

2 months (Face-to-face exchanges)--> regulation of mutual attention and responsiveness

5 months (Topic sharing)--> incorporation of objects into social interactions

8 months (Reciprocity)--> Initiates actions towards other and develops more flexible and symmetrical relationships

18 months (Symbolic representations)--> Verbal and other symbolic means of relating to others 

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Interesting features of caregiver-infant interacti

  • Even newborn babies have been found to imitate the facial expressions of adults, such as mouth opening and closing, or putting out the tounge (Meltozoff and Moore, 1977)
  • Adults usually speak to infants in a simplified form of speech, which is slow, repetitive and varied in sound patterns, thus infants and caregivers have characteristics which seem to encourage interaction.
  • Many psychologists believe that social interation with a limited number of people before eight months is largely responsible for the type of attachment that develops, however, it is very difficult to carry out experiments to identify the key features of interaction that are responsible for infants forming an attachment with a particular person.
  • Ainsworth et al (1978) supposed that caregivers who were responsive to infant distress and demands would have secure infants because the infants would have their needs met, inconsistent reposniveness would result in ambivalent infants, and a low level of response would result in avoidant infants.
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  • A review by De Wolff and van Ijzendoorn (1997) of 66 investigations indicated that there is only a weak relationship between maternal responsiveness involving the appropriate and prompt responsive to infant' attachment signals and later attachment type.
  • Another suggestion is that maternal mindmindedness, which can be seen by comments of what the infant is thinking ('oh you're grumpy today') is associated with secure attachments at older ages (Meins et al, 2001.)
  • Interactional synchrony - infant and mother producing similar behaviours -has been  associated with secure attachment at older ages (Isabella et al, 1989.)
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Caregiver interactions

There has been much research into which caregiver interactions with their child results in a heightened attachment:

  • Immediate physical contact - 1970s research of skin to skin contact (Klaus and Kennell) found that mothers with immediate skin to skin contact show more tender interactions with their child, and the child spends more time looking at them, then children who don't have early skin to skin contact.
  • Imitation - It has been shown that even very young infants can imitate adult's facial expressions, a discovery that was evidence that children are innatley social beings, and take an active part in relationship formation in the first months of life. A study by Melzoff and Moore in 1977 investigated the imitation of facial expressions in 2-3 weeks old infants. The infants were presented with three facial expressions and a finger movement on a recorded video, independant judges were then asked to rate the infant's response for likeliness. The judges didn't know which expression they were presented with. They discovered there was a significant association between model behaviour and infant behaviour, with infants able to imitate specific facial expressions or hand movements. 
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Caregiver interactions cont...

  • Modified language or 'motherese' - A slow, repetative and highpitched language used by mothers when talking to babies and was shown to highten the effectiveness of interactional symphony (Snow and Fergerson.)
  • Interactional symphony- Candan and Sander looked at how babies co-ordinated actions with adult speech. Babies were found to move in time with the conversation and the interactions they were presented with, although only the adult could speak.
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  • Myers (1984) suggested that immediate physical contact is neither necessary, nor sufficient for the development of attachment
  • Critics of the imitation studies have suggested that young babies aren't intentionally social and will respond in a similar way to inaminate objects. 
  • But Abranand de Young found that 5-12 week old babies would imitate tounge pulling and mouth opening, but not when expressions were simulated using objects.
  • Interactional synchrony is not related to the security of attachment in all cultures. Levine et al showed how mothers in Kenya rarely cuddled or interacted closely, although they were attentive to needs and had secure attachments.
  • Although 'motherese' indoubtedly suerves to encourage communication between caregiver and infant, there is no evidence that it directly affects the formation or quality of their attachment. Mothers have been found to display motherese to all young babies, not just those they have attachments to.
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Findings from cross-cultural research

  • Grossman et al (1981) reported that 40 to 50% of German infants were avoidant and supposed this may be due to the value placed on independance in that country, and this would influence social interaction and caregiving.
  • However, it should be noted that later studies in Germany have found percentages more similiar to those reported in the US.
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Findings of the AAI and the Holocaust

  • It appears the mother's classification in the AAI is related to the attachment type of her infant (review by van Ijzendoorn, 1995). The attachment type could even be found before the birth of the child (Fonagy et al, 1991), which is important because it eliminates the possibility that birth experiences or infant characteristics influence the responses in the AAI. 
  • From these AAI findings, it would appear that there could be a tendency for cross-generational continuity. However, a study of survivors of the Holocaust illustrates how attachment patterns can change over generations (Baron et al, 1998.)
  • Individuals who had experienced the terrible suffering of the Holocaust (such as family being killed) were not, suprisingly, classified as 'unresolved' on the AAI. In the next generation, the percentage of unresolved individuals was only slightly higher than would be expected, and the next generation, there was no difference when compared to a control group. Thus, the effects of the Holocaust didn't appear to cause a downward cycle of psychological issues in subsequent generations.
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  • As the research isn't based on experimental design, and therefore another variable could be the cause of the early attachment and later behaviour - eg, some children have characteristics that enable them to cope well in different situations, and these characteristics could result in secure attachments.
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The function of attachment

  • Bowlby believed that attachment is the result of evolutionary pressures. In animals, staying close to mother will provide protection from attack, this will help ensure the mother's genes are transmitted to future generations.
  • Belsky et al (1991) have argued that, if resources are limited, an insecure attachment may confer evolutionary advantages. Insecure attachmemnts would assist in dealing with the limited physical and emotional resources and may be associated with early parenting. Secure attachments would be an advantage in circumstances where therre are more resources.
  • Attachment can be seen as fulfilling other functions. Bowlby drew attention to the psychological functions of the attachment system as it can provide children with a sense of security. He proposed attachment relationships are important for a child's working model of their world. A child with a secure relationship would have a positive outlook and assume support will be provided, whilst an ambivalent child will be less certain of support and help.
  • Attachment also involves developing a social and communicative relationship with another person and the help given by adults is a significant factor in the cognitive development of children. In cultures that do not have education systems involving schools, the person who scaffolds the child's ability would be a parent, and so the function of attachment is also to provide oppourtunities for learning.
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