Influence of childhood on adult relationships

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  • Created by: Natasha
  • Created on: 30-12-12 15:32

A01 Bowlby

Bowlby (1969) suggested that young children develop an internal working model (IWM), a mental representation of what to expect in future relationships based on experience of early attachments and relationships with primary caregivers. The IWM consists of three components; a model of the self (self-worth), a model of the mother figure (whether trustworthy),  and a model of the relationship between the two (how people support each other). Bowlby therefore argued that early relationships with our primary caregivers provide the basis for later adult relationships, known as the continuity hypothesis suggesting attachment types will have an impact on adult relationships.

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A01 Ainsworth

Ainsworth et al (1971) investigated in to the different kinds of attachment types, by devising the Strange Situation to assess how the child acts in certain situations, thus identifying their attachment type. For example one of the attachment types was called secure (type A), a child of this particular attachment type would cry when their mother left the room and then seek comfort from her on return, as opposed to insecure avoidant (type B) which would ignore affection on their mothers return. These differences in attachment types suggests that if attachment type does impact adult relationships, there will be major differences in how these individuals perceive relationships therefore affect their behaviour towards relationships. 

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A02 Hazen and Shaver

Supporting this idea is illustrated in the Hazen and Shaver’s (1987) American ‘love-quiz’. They conducted a study where they collected information from people about their early attachment experience and their current romantic attitudes and experiences. They found that people who were securely attached, as infants, tended to have happy and lasting love relationships in adulthood. These people also believed that love was both enduring and based on mutual trust. Insecure types, on the other hand, found adult relationships more difficult, were more likely to be divorced and felt that true love was rare – therefore supporting that attachment type does impact on how relationships are perceived amongst individuals. 

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A02 Social desability, retrospective

However, the association that Hazen and Shaver found may be unreliable because they collected data from a questionnaire in an American newspaper, therefore the participants could have social desirability and so answer in a biased way to be ‘shown in a good light’, therefore may not be saying the whole truth. For example, someone who is in a happy adult relationship who has also been abused as a child may not want to reveal the abuse in a questionnaire, therefore they may make up that they had a happy early attachment – social desirability skews the data as an individual like this, would challenge the link between adult and childhood experiences as they show they have successfully had a happy adult relationship with no early secure attachment. Also there is the issue with using retrospective data, when the participants recall past data they could recall it wrong, suggesting the data collected may be unreliable – therefore the association between attachment type and adult relationship may not have a significant link, which this study suggested.

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A02 Deterministic, czech twins

The continuity hypothesis could also be criticized for being deterministic, as it states that you will develop a certain perception on relationships due to your early attachment type. However there are case studies which challenge Bowlby’s theory, such as the Czech Twins. They were found at seven years old in a basement with no secure attachment between them and their mother, yet with some support after being found they managed to develop, led happy lives and have secure adult relationships. This challenges the continuity hypothesis as even though they didn’t have an early secure relationship they still managed to have secure relationships when adults, this suggests that may be our primary caregivers are not the only factor which provides a basis for later adult relationships or that just with individual differences, not everyone may need an initial internal working model from their parents – therefore supporting the idea that the theory is deterministic as the Czech twins showed they did not follow a set path for relationships due to their attachment type. 

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A01 Popularity

The continuity hypothesis also predicts that the child’s attachment type is likely to exert influence on friendships and popularity. Such horizontal relationships (between two people of equal power) provide young people with the opportunity to develop and practise relationship skills and abilities. Thus, peer interactions may also impact upon later adult relationships. Nangle et al (2003) claimed that children’s friendships are training ground for important adult relationships.

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A02 Simpson, social skills

Supporting this claim, Simpson et al (2007) carried out a longitudinal study and found that participants who were securely attached as infants were rated as having higher social competence as children. Those who were more socially competent at ages 6-8 were found to be closer to their friends at age 16 and these participants were more expressive and emotional attached to their romantic partners in early adulthood. This supports the idea that attachment type has a positive influence on later adult relationships, as it suggests that a secure attached type provides the infant with higher or more vast range of social skills. Studies have shown that lack of social skills can cause a dissolution of a relationship (Duck, 1879) therefore possessing a range of social skills would suggest that later relationships for infants with secure attachment type are more likely to be successful.

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A02 Rosiman no effect, reductionist

However challenging this, Roisman et al (2004) found no effect of romantic experiences at age 20 on romantic relationships at age 30. This suggests that previous relationship experiences may have little impact on later relationships, even though Duck’s model suggests an individual experiences personal growth and development at an end of a relationship, suggesting that they must develop more socially -but Roisman’s findings show that this may not be the case. Therefore, if social skills developed from having a secure attachment type does not determine a relationships success; this suggests that there must be other factors which influence individual’s later adult relationships such as personality or values. Furthermore Bowlby’s continuity hypothesis can be argued to be reductionist, as it does not take into account other social factors that could influence an individual’s later adult relationships.

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A02 Zimmerman, life events

Supporting this, Zimmerman et al (2000) discovered that children’s attachment type growing up in Germany did not predict adult attachment type and that life event such as the divorce of parents or parental illnesss/death had more influence on later security. This supports the idea that the continuity hypothesis is reductionist as other social factors had an impact on these children’s later adult relationships and not their attachment type.  

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A02 Gender Bias

Additionally, studies into the interactions with peers can be criticized for being gender bias as studies have found that girls tend to have more intimate friendships than boys, and are more likely to report care and security. It was also found that girls are more likely to play by sharing, in contrast to boys who tend to play competitive sport games. However, people have claimed that sex differences in this area have been over emphasised and similarities are too often overlooked.

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