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Study Notes


BTEC National

Last updated 29 Sept 2019

An attachment is a strong emotional bond between an infant and their primary caregiver. A secure attachment is required for the infant’s holistic needs to be met and to develop healthy attachments with others in the future. A lack of secure attachments can lead to distrust in others.

Stages of Attachment – Schaffer and Emerson

Schaffer and Emerson carried out observations for 18 months where they were studied how attachments altered. They concluded that there are four main stages of attachment:

  • 0-3 months - Responds to any caregiver.
  • 3-7 months - Starts to distinguish between their main caregiver and others. They will accept care from others.
  • 7-9 months - The infant has a particular caregiver that they go to for comfort.
  • 9 months+ - The infant shows independence by forming multiple attachments.

Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment

Bowlby hypothesised that the first two and a half years of life is a critical time for attachments to be formed. A disruption to the attachment during this stage could lead to antisocial, aggressive and delinquent behaviour in adolescence and beyond.

Key Principles

  • A deep and enduring emotional bond connects a child to their primary caregiver.
  • Theory based on the idea that children are biologically pre-programmed to form attachments and infancy is an important time for forming these positive attachments.
  • The attachment to the primary caregiver acts as a model for future attachments.
  • Disruption to attachment can have a negative effect on development.

There are a number of possible causes of disruption to attachment, such as post-natal depression disability and premature birth.

Some possible effects of disruption to attachment include:

  • Individual may experience anxiety.
  • Difficulty in forming relationships in later life.
  • Becoming a parent who struggles to establish attachments with their own children.

Mary Ainsworth Strange Situation Classification - Types of Attachment

Mary Ainsworth carried out the Strange Situation Experiment where the actions and responses of infants were measured when they were placed in a range of situations involving the caregiver and a stranger. From this, Ainsworth came up with a three main types of attachment along with characteristics for each one.

Secure Attachment:

Securely attached children feel that their caregivers will meet all of their needs. Securely attached children become distressed when the caregiver leaves, and calm down when the caregiver returns. The child does not find comfort from strangers when the caregiver leaves.

Insecure Avoidant:

Insecure avoidant children are very independent and do not gravitate towards the caregiver when investigating their environment. They show little stranger anxiety and are accepting of the stranger. The child will show little interest when the caregiver returns.

Insecure Ambivalent / Resistant: The child will display clingy behaviour and be dependent on the caregiver. They will reject the caregiver when they engage in interaction. The child does not have any feelings of security from the caregiver and finds it difficult to investigate the environment alone as they do not want to move away from the caregiver. When they suffer with distress, the caregiver will find it difficult to calm them down. The reason for this is because the caregiver is inconsistent in their responses to the child.

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