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Childhood Attachment March 24, 2009

Posted by occhristiancounseling in attachment.
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Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, and Wall (1978) tested Bowlby’s theories through extensive studies of the security of infant attachment using the Strange Situation, a technique designed to identify patterns of infant responses to separation from and reunion with the mother. This 20-minute procedure introduces the infant to increasingly stressful events that are designed to activate his attachment system. The infant enters the lab with his mother, and two separations and reunions take place between infant and mother. During the separations, the mother leaves the room for 3 minutes and then returns. A stranger enters the room, remains with the infant during the first separation, and leaves when the mother returns. During the second separation, the child is left alone in the room.

Through analyses of the data obtained during the Strange Situation procedure, Ainsworth et al. (1978) identified the following three attachment classifications for infants: secure, avoidant, and resistant-ambivalent. Most infants were classified as secure and exhibited signs of missing their mothers during the first separation, continuing to show distress during the second separation. They actively sought closeness to their mothers when they returned, were quickly soothed, and returned to their play. Resistant-ambivalent infants were preoccupied with their mothers during the entire procedure and appeared angry, intermittently seeking her and avoiding her. They failed to be soothed and demonstrated significant difficulty returning to their play. In contrast, avoidant infants displayed no signs of distress during the procedure, but continued to focus on the toys and environment, actively ignoring and/or avoiding their mothers when they returned.

In later examination of Strange Situation data, Main and Solomon (1990) identified an additional category of infant attachment. Since a number of infants appeared to be unclassifiable using the three categories identified by Ainsworth et al. (1978), Main and Solomon examined more than 200 videotapes of infants who had behaved in conflicted, unorganized ways. Some of these infants rose to greet their mothers when they returned, and then fell face down or stopped all movement with their hands in the air and trance-like expressions on their faces. These patterns of behavior were identified as disorganized-disoriented, which was a new and totally different attachment classification.

Following the seminal work of Ainsworth et al. (1978) and Main and Solomon (1990), many studies were conducted to examine attachment in children. Lieberman (1997) succinctly summarized 15 years of findings in the following way:

  1. Individual differences in the quality of the baby’s attachment can be reliably categorized on the basis of security or anxiousness about the mother’s availability.
  2. There are fairly predictable links between quality of attachment and the history of the mother-child relationship in the first year.
  3. Individual differences in quality of attachment are chronologically stable under stable family conditions, but they may shift when family circumstances lead to a change in maternal availability.
  4. Quality of attachment in infancy is a reasonably good predictor of social-emotional functioning through at least adolescence.
  5. The quality of care the mother is able to provide is greatly influenced by the quality of marital or other family support available to her in raising her child. (p. 279).

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