Childhood influence

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Shaver proposed that our experiences of love in adulthood is an integration of three behavioural systems acquired in early infancy and childhood: attachment, caregiving and sexuality systems. The attachment system is related to the concept of the internal working model proposed by Bowlby. 

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Bowlby theorised that later relationships are likely to be a continuation of early attachment styles (secure or insecure) as the primary attachment (usually the mother) figure promotes an internal working model of relationships which will set the standard for later relationships. The caregiving system is the knowledge about how one cares for others which is learned through the modelling behaviour of the primary attachment figure.

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The sexuality system is also learnt through early attachment e.g. those who suffered from an avoidant attachment may then see sex without love is pleasurable. Qualter et al have shown how children also learn from other children and interactions with peers. 

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The way a child thinks about himself is determined by specific experiences that become internalised and as a result develops a sense of their own value which then determines how they approach adult relationships. Nangle et al proposed that children's friendships are in fact a training ground for important adult relationships. 

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Through this close friendship could play a significant role in developing social skills as they are characterised by affection, a sense of alliance and intimacy, these are all important qualities in later adult relationships

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Fraley et al conducted a meta-analysis of studies finding positive correlations between early attachment type and later relationships supporting the theory. The possible implication here is greater support is likely needed in the childhood stage to encourage social interaction (playgroups, placing in nursery more often) as this could affect the child's life significantly later on into adulthood with difficulties in adult relationships.

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 The problem with this however is many studies in this area have been conducted with US participants and the results from such samples may not adequately represent other areas or cultures due to cultural bias. Therefore, the theory may be limited to US children and adults for the most part.

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It also showed a correlation so doesn’t show cause and effect, this means there could be a third unknown factor involved. However, attachment theory does suggest that significant relationship experiences may alter attachment organisation as Kirkpatrick and Hazan (1994) found that relationships that broke down were associated with a shift from secure to insecure attachment.

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Simpson et al conducted a longitudinal study spanning more than 25 years involving 78 participants at 4 key points: Infancy, early childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The findings of this study supported the claim that expressions of emotions in adult romantic relationships could be related back to a person’s early attachment experience. 

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This is useful as it allows researchers to observe changes in behaviour first hand as opposed to asking people to rely on memory which may be biased or affected. The weakness here is that other unknown variables can still be affecting the participants later adult relationships such as cultural or social factors.

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But questioning young people about romantic relationships is problematic as their concept of a romantic relationship could be very different to someone older. A 16 yr. old may claim to be in a romantic relationship because they go the cinema once a week, hold hands around school and kiss between lessons. 

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While a 30 yr. old women would probably be much slower to use the term boyfriend/ girlfriend and therefore, one could argue, more importance would be placed upon it. This raises the issue of validity in this research as relying on self-reported relationship statuses from adolescents could be inherently untrustworthy (due to social desirability), or incorrect as their understanding of what a relationship actually is could differ from the definition given by the researchers.

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There are also gender differences in childhood relationships as Richard and Schneider (2005) found that girls have more intimate friendships than boys and are more likely to report care and security in their relationships with other girls. 

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Erwin (1993) also found that boy’s relationships tend to be more competitive, while in contrast girls are more likely to engage in cooperative and sharing activities. Erwin claims that sex differences in the experience of childhood relationships have been over emphasised and that the many similarities tend to be overlooked. 

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While this study mainly talks about heterosexual relationships would there be any differences in homosexual relationships. As there have been no studies looking in to this we have no evidence to suggest that there would be a difference. But until research has been done we cannot think of them as the same and we cannot use the research findings and generalise them to all types of relationships.

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Such theories that propose our early childhood experiences and attachment styles shape our later relationships are reductionist as they do not factor in other complex cultural or social influences in later life that may lead us to adapt and improve on any deficiencies from childhood. 

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This theory states our early experiences set in stone our later relationships and this is clearly not the case. Adult relationships are far more complex and shaped by more than simply early attachment styles and experiences. 

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This is because we have free will which allows us to break away from early experiences through conscious thought and self-awareness thus allowing us to address problem areas. Due to this such theories like this are deterministic as they assume our fate is sealed from early childhood experiences but in truth we are constantly learning and adapting our behaviour and our attachment styles may change over time.

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