Early attachment and later relationships

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The internal working model

Bowlby's internal working model looked at how our childhood attachments influence adult relationships. 


  • If a child has a secure attachment to a sensitive caregiver, they are likely to see themselves as worthy of being loved. They are then likely to form future secure relationships. 
  • If a child has an insecure attachment with a caregiver who rejects them, they are likely to see themselves as unworthy of being loved. They are then likely to form future insecure relationships.
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Hazan and Shaver (1987)

Hazan and Shaver (1987)developed a study to explore how early attachment can predict adult relationships.


  • Love quiz in local newspaper.
  • Two parts to the quiz.
  • First part assessed the attachment type with their parents the second part assessed their current beliefs about romantic love.


  • First 620 responses analysed. 
  • Found that there was a correlation between the type of cildhood attachment and people's later views on romantic love.
  • Secure cildren were more likely to have happy and trustworthy relationships. 
  • Insecure-resistant children were more likely to be worried that they weren't loved in their relationships.
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Hazan and Shaver (1987)


  • The findings provided support for Bowlby's internal working model - that early attachments do influence adult relationships.


  • Quiz relied on people thinking back to their childhood, which isn't always accurate. 
  • Volunteer sample - certain type of person more likely to respond.
  • People may answer untruthfully to make themselves look good.
  • Repeated the study in 2003 and ot similar results.
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Adult attachment interview

Psychologists developed a way to try to scientifically assess the relationship between early childood attachments and later adult attachments. They came up with the adult relationship interview.

It's based on the idea that it doesn't really matter exactly what the childhood attachment was - it's how it was remembered. This again supports the internal workig model.

Main et al (1985) - The Adult Attachment Interview

  • Semi-structured interview involving a series of Qs about childhood attachment relationships and how these were seen to influence later relationships.
  • Interviewee asked to give 5 adjectivesexplaining their relationship with each of their parents.
  • Asked to explain why they chose each adjective. Other Qs then asked about times they got upset, if they felt rejected, and how they believe their early experiences influenced their adult relationships.
  • Results then classified by trained coders into a category - secure, dismissing, preoccupied or unresolved/ disorganised.

Went on to show that the categories of adult relationships could be predicted from people's recall of their recall of their childhood attachments.

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Two long-term effects of privation

The cycle of privation

Some studies show that children who experience privation go on to have difficulties caring for their own children:

Quinton et al (1984)

  • Compared 50 women who had experienced institutional care as kids with 50 women ho hadn't.
  • Found that the women raised in institutions were more likely to have parenting difficulties later in life. 
  • Suggests there is a cycle of privation - children who have experienced privation later go on to become less caring parents. 
  • Their children are deprived of a strong maternal attachment and may be less caring to their children, and so on.

Reactive Attachment Disorder - Parker and Forest (1993)

Outlined this rare and serious condition, which occurs in children who have been permanently damaged by early experiences such as privation of attachment.

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Effects of long-term privation

Reactive Attachment Disorder - Parker and Forest (1993)

  • Outlined this rare and serious condition, which occurs in children who have been permanently damaged by early experiences such as privation of attachment.
  • Symptoms include: poor social relationships, dishonesty, an inability to give or recieve affection, involvement in crime.
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Frued and Dann (1951)

Showed that privation might not lead to detrimental outcomes.

  • Studied 6 children rescued after WW2.
  • Had been orphaned during the war at a few months old, and raised within a deportation camp.
  • Although they were looked after by the Jewish people 'passing' through to the concentration camps, the children didn't have time to form any adult attachments, instead forming bonds amoung themselves.
  • When the war ended, the children were adopted by British families and have since shown few signs of a troubled upbringing, having a normal level of IQ and maintaining normal relationships.
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