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Study Notes

Multiple Attachments and the Role of the Father

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Let's look at some of the most important research studies that explored the role of the father in attachment.

Bowlby (1988)

Reasoned that if patterns of attachment are a product of how their mother has treated them, it could be anticipated that the pattern he develops with his father is the product of how their father has treated them. Bowlby suggests that fathers can fill a role closely resembling that filled by a mother but points out that in most cultures this is uncommon. Bowlby argues that in most families with young children, the father's role tends to be different. According to Bowlby, a father is more likely to engage in physically active and novel play than the mother and tends to become his child's preferred play companion.

Schaffer & Emerson

Found that additional attachments developed in the proceeding months following the 4th stage, observing 31% of infants displaying 5 or more attachments by 18 months.

Grossman’s (2002)

Conducted a longitudinal study of 44 families comparing the role of fathers’ & mothers’ contribution to their children's attachment experiences at 6,10 and 16 years. Fathers’ play style (whether it was sensitive, challenging and interactive) was closely linked to the fathers’ own internal working model of attachment. Play sensitivity was a better predictor of the child's long-term attachment representation than the early measures of the of attachment type that the infant had with their father.

Field (1978)

Conducted research which compared the behaviours of primary caretaker mothers with primary and secondary caretaker fathers. Face-to-face interactions were analysed from video footage with infants at 4 months of age. Overall, it was observed that fathers engaged more in game playing and held their infants less. However, primary caretaker fathers engaged in significantly more smiling, imitative grimaces, and imitative vocalizations than did secondary caretaker fathers and these were comparable with mothers’ behaviour.

Brown et al. (2012)

Investigated father involvement, paternal sensitivity, and father−child attachment security at 13 months and 3 years of age. Results demonstrated that involvement and sensitivity influenced father−child attachment security at age 3. Involvement was a greater predictor of secure attachment when fathers were rated as less sensitive.

Link - The research from Brown and Field indicates that the gender of a caregiver is not crucial in predicting attachment types/ quality, rather it is the extent of caregiver involvement.

This point can be paralleled with Ainsworth’s Caregiver Sensitivity Hypothesis (1979). Although this was based on observations of mothers’ behaviour, it predicted that responsive and sensitive care predicted attachment types.

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