What is the debate?
It is questionable whether childhood attachments influence adult relationships.
Outline the 'Continuity Hypothesis'
The continuity hypothesis (Hazen and Shaver-1987) suggests that our infant attachment type (Ainsworth-1969) continues into adulthood and forms the basis for our romantic relationships. People who experience a secure attachment as an infant will continue to experience secure relationships as an adult; whereas infants who experience an insecure attachment will experience an insecure attachment when they grow up. This can be explained by Bowlby’s internal working model. The internal working model is evolutionary and works of the belief that the capacity to form an attachment is genetically innate. The model is a part conscious (cognitive), part unconscious (psychodynamic) set of expectations about adult relationships based on the attachments learned (behavioural) from primary care givers at infancy.
Give research evidence to support CH
Strong evidence comes from Hazen and Shaver who measured adult’s infant attachment style and adult relationship style and found that anxious avoidant adults feared closeness; just as in Ainsworth found anxious avoidant children ignored their mother. They also found secure adults had a high self-esteem, continuity shown in Ainsworth’s study when secure children played and explored with confidence. Finally, Hazen and Shaver found that adults who are anxious resistant has emotional extremes and were known as clingy, this also matches with Ainsworth’s study as he found children who were resistant were clingy and upset when mother left but not comforted by her return.
Give 3 AO3 evaluation points of CH
Hazen and Shaver’s study can be praised for having high population validity; the extent to which the findings can be generalised to wider populations, leading to high external validity because they used a large sample; 630 participants, with a large age range; 14-82. However, they can also be criticised for the same reason because they only advertised for participants in the Rocky Mountain News; which is a small geographical area.
Their study can also be criticised for having high retrospective self-report; this is when participants are asked about their past however, this may be unreliable due to memory failure. This is because they asked those of age 82 to remember how they were as a young child which could easily be confused.
They can also be criticised for high evaluation apprehension; when a participant becomes concerned that their behaviour may be judged by the experimenter possibly causing a change in their natural behaviour. This is because they were being asked about their adult relationship style, some may become concerned and say that they are secure because it seems like the correct answer.
Why is CH considered simplistic?
A limitation of the continuity hypothesis is that it is simplistic; this is because it ignores other important influences. For example, peer relations have been found to be more influential (Qualter and Munn) as they found children learn about themselves; popularity and confidence, from experiences with other children, this causes them to approach adult relationships with greater confidence. However, the continuity hypothesis can argue that infant attachment affects peer relationships which then in turn effect adult relationships.
Further evidence for the continuity hypothesis being simplistic comes from life events being more important in predicting adult relationship types. Zimmerman found German children’s adult relationships were not related to infant attachment type, but to life events (parental divorce or illness) and this had a greater influence on later adult relationships.
Similarly, Hamilton found that children’s attachment types changed from secure to insecure during major life events. Suggesting life events influence attachments.
Why is CH considered parsimonious?
Contradicting this the continuity hypothesis could be praised for being parsimonious; justifiably simplistic, as there is strong research evidence (Hazen and Shaver) to support the study.
Why is CH considered constrained?
Furthermore, the continuity hypothesis can be criticised for being constrained; ignoring free will or personal responsibility. Evidence for this comes from Rutter, Quinton and Hill who argue it is possible to ‘earn security’, they identified a group of people who had experience problematic relationships as children, can experience secure and successful relationships as adults, suggesting that the effect of infant attachment may not be as lasting as the continuity hypothesis suggests. Additionally, other studies suggest adult relationship styles can change between different relationships (Feeney and Noller), a person may be insecure in one relationship and secure in another. Once again suggesting the attachment style is not lasting.
Why is CH considered eurocentric?
Finally, the continuity hypothesis can be criticised for being Eurocentric; developed in Europe or North America and unfairly applied to other cultures. This is because Van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg found using meta-analysis that attachment types only apply to Europe or North America meaning the strange situation cannot be applied to other countries; which the continuity hypothesis is based upon.
What is the conclusion?
Therefore, whilst the influence of childhood attachments upon adult relationships is clear, it is perhaps not to the extent suggested by the continuity hypothesis.