Cultural variations in attachment

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Studies of cultural variations

Cross-cultural variations
Infants in Uganda, like infants in the UK and America, used their mothers as secure base for exploration, and mothers of securely attached infants showed greater sensitivity towards their infants than those who were insecurely attached.
Tronick et al (1992) studied an African tribe, the Efe, from Zaire who live in extended family groups. The infants were looked after and even breastfed by different women but usually they slept with their own mother at night. Despite such differences in childrearing practices, the infants at sixth months, still showed one primary attachment.

Cross-cultural variations
Grossman and Grossman (1991) found that German infants tended to be classfied as insecurely rather than securely attached. This may be due to different childrearing practices. German culture involes keeping some interpersonal distance between parents and children, so infants do not engage in proximity-seeking behaviours in the strange situations and thus appear to be insecurely attached. 
Takashi (1990) used the strange situation technique to study 60 middle-class Japanese infants and their mothers and found similar rates of secure attachment to those found by Ainstworth in the US. However, the Japanse infants showed no evidence of the insecure-avoidant attachment and high rates of insecure-resistant. The Japanese infants were particulary distressed on being left alone.  

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Studies of cultural variationst

These studies suggest that, despite the fact there are cultural variations in infant care arrangements, the strongest attachments are stil formed with the infant's mother. The research also shows, however, that there are differences in the patterns of attachments that can be related in cultural attitudes. 

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Van IJzendoorn and Kroonenborg (1988)

Meta - Analysis 

  • carried out a meta analysis (analysing other peoples results and drawing conclusions from it) of 32 studies of the strange situation in 8 countries.


  • the amount of attachment types were mostly consistent in each country as all have the highest % of attachments as type b and most have the lowest % as type c. However countries like Japna and Israel have a higher % of type c attachments than type a attachments
  • In germany more children are type a because of the way their parents bring them up. They encorage independence so they withdrw loving attention and often ignore crys, making the child shy in later life.
  • In Israel, they are more type c children, this is because lots of children are brought up on a communal farm and all looked after by non-family members called watchwomen. This causes a child to become attention seeking.
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Van IJzendoorn and Kroonenborg (1988)


  • there are different types of attachment based on how children are brought up in that culture.
  • Type b attachment is likely to be genetic as it is the most common attachment type in all countries studied.


  • children are brought up in different ways in different cultures, this could result in different types of attachment in different cultures.
  • the strange situation is not sutible for studying attachment in different cultures, a different study may result in different types of attachment in different cultures.
  • the study assumes that differen countries a are the same thing as different cultures
  • a problem with the meta analysis reasearch method is that it can show an unusual trend.
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Evaluating cultural variations in attachment Weakn

Culture bias
Rothbaum et all. argued that attachment theory and research is not relevant to other cultures because it is so rooted in American culture, Rothbaum et al. looked at in particular the contrasts between American and Japanese culture.
1. The sensitivity hypothesis.
Bowlby and Ainsworth promoted the view that secure attachment was related to caregiver responsiveness and sensitivity. Rothbaum et al. aegue tha this reflects Western ideas of autonomy, whereas in Japan, sensitivity is about promoting dependence rather than independence. Sensitivity has the opposite objectives in the 2 cultures.
2. The continuity hypothesis
Bowlby and Ainsworth proposed that infants who are more securely attached go on to develop into more sically and emotionally competent children and adults. However this competence is defined in terms of individuation - it means being able to explore, being independent and being able to regulate one's own emotions, In Japan the opposite is true; competence is represented by the inhibition of emoitonal expression and being group-oriented rather than self-oriented.
3. The secure base hypothesis
In the West, secure attachments are seen as pproviding an infant with a secure base from which to explore, thus promoting independence. Attachment relationships in Japan are dependence-oriented in keeoping with the Japanse concept of amae. Behaviours associated with insecure ambivalent attachment are more typical of the characteric amae relationship. 

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Evaluating cultural variations in attachment Weakn

Nation versus Culture
Rothbaum et al. talked about the behaviour of Japanse mothers and infants - yet this may be an unjustified generalisation as, within the counry of Japan, there are different subcultures, each of which may have different childcare practices; one study of attachment in Tokyo fiybd similar distributions of attachment types to the Western studies, whereas a more rural sample found an over-representation of insecure-resistant and individuals.
Indeed the van Ijzendoorn and Kroonenborg study found mroe variation within cultires than between cultures. One explanation for the large within-culture variation is that some studies involved working-class infants. Rural societies in the US may be more similar to the rurarl societies in Israel than they are to urban societies in the US. What this means is that data was collected on different sub-cultures within each country and that it is amistake to think of behaviour within one country as representing a homogenous culture. Van IJzendoorn and Kroonenborg conclude that 'great caution should be excersised in assuming that an individual sample is representative of a particular (sub)culture'.

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Evaluating cultural variations in attachment Weakn

Cultural similarties
Van IJzendoorn and Kroonenborg suggest that the cross-cultural similarties they found might be explained by the effects of mass media, which spread ideas about parenting so that children all over the world are exposed to similar influences. This means that cultural similarties may not be dueto inaite biological influences but are because of our increasing global culture, certainly in urban areas. 

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