The influence of childhood experiences on adult relationships


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Parent-child relationships (AO1)

Shaver et al (1988) claimed that what we experience as romantic love in adulthood is an integration of 3 behavioural systems acquired in infancy – attachment, care giving and sexuality systems.  

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The 1st system, attachment is related to the concept of the internal working model which was covered in the AS level

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 According to Bowlby (1969) later relationships are likely to be a continuation of early attachment styles (secure and insecure) because the behaviour of the infant’s primary attachment figure promotes an internal working model of relationships which leads the infant to expect the same in later relationships.

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Commentary on parental relationships (AO2)

The relationship between attachment style and later adult relationships has been demonstrated in a number of studies. Fraley (1998) conducted a meta-analysis of studies, finding correlations from 0.10 to 0.50 between early attachment type and later relationships. They suggested that one reason for low correlations may be because insecure-anxious attachment is more unstable.

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However, one key question concerns the stability of attachment types. It could be that an individual’s attachment type is determined by the current relationship, which is why happily married couples are secure. Attachment theory does suggest that significant relationship experiences may alter attachment organisation. Kirkpatrick and Hazan (1994) found that relationship break-ups were associated with a shift from secure to insecure attachment

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Interaction with peers (AO1)

Qualter and Munn (2005) have shown that children also learn from their experiences with other children. The way that a child thinks about himself and others is determined  at least in part by specific experiences, which then become internalised. As a result, children may develop a sense of their own value as a result of interactions with others, which in turn determines how they approach adult relationships.

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Nangle (2003) claims that children’s friendships are training grounds for important adult relationships. Close friendships are characterised by affection, a sense of alliance and intimacy, and the sharing of secrets and personal information. The experience of having a friend to confide in promotes feelings of trust, acceptance and a sense of being understood.

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Commentary on interaction with peers (AO2)

Gender differences in childhood relationships have been found in a number of studies. Richard & 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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Other research (Erwin, 1993) has found that boys relationships tend to be more competitive, a fact attributed to the greater emphasis on competitive play activities. In contrast, girls are more likely to engage in co-operative and sharing activities. However, Erwin claims that sex differences in the experience of childhood relationships have been over-emphasised, that many similarities tend to be overlooked.

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Good but issues, debates and approaches?

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