Attachment Theory in Psychosocial Development

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Psychosocial development beings in infancy as children begin to interact with people forming relationships and as they begin to manage their feelings. Forming a secure attachment is a very important milestone in an infant’s life because it shapes how the child sees themselves and how they react to certain situations. Attachment is a long-standing connection or bond with others. Developmental psychologist who study attachment and look at how children reach this milestone tend to study three questions: How do parent and infant attachment bonds form? How does neglect affect these bonds? And what accounts for children’s attachment differences (1). While these three questions are very important to researchers today, this essay will focus on the history of attachment, effects on attachment, and how attachment changes throughout different cultures.

Attachment all started in the 1950’s with a guy named Harry Harlow. Harry Harlow was an American psychologist who focused his studies on maternal separation, dependency, and social isolation. His most well-known experiment was the Harlow’s Monkeys Experiment. The research showed that the monkey, while understanding the importance of milk, spent most of their time clinging to a terry cloth mother. They only went to the mesh wire mother when they needed to be fed. There is more to a parent-infant bond than nourishment, and it was concluded by Harry Harlow that “Feelings of comfort and security are critical components to maternal-infant bonding, which leads to healthy psychosocial development” (1).

Adding on to the work done by Harry Harlow, John Bowlby developed the idea of attachment theory. In order to have a healthy attachment John Bowlby thought that a secure base was needed. He defined a secure base as “a parental presence that gives the child a sense of safety as they explore their surroundings”. There are two necessary things that John Bowlby thought were needed for a healthy attachment: The parent must be responsive to the infant’s needs and the parent and infant must have mutually enjoyable interactions (1).

Mary Ainsworth worked to further develop the attachment theory. She wanted to know if there were different forms of attachment and why. Mary Ainsworth did a study called Strange Situation Procedure to learn more about attachment between mothers and their children. Mary Ainsworth looked at how the infants responded to the separation and reunion when their mothers left a room and then came back in. She concluded that there are three different forms of attachment: secure, avoidant, and resistant. The last important figure in the development of attachment was Erik Erikson. Erik Erikson is responsible for the creation of the psychosocial development stages. He believed that “personality develops in a predetermined order, and builds upon each previous stage” (2).

During each of his stages, a person faces an issue or crisis defined as “a psychological challenge in managing our interaction with the social world” (3). If people are able to successfully resolve the issue they will have a healthy personality and gain basic virtues allowing them to move to the next stage. Not being able to successfully resolve the issue results in not being able to complete other stages, and a unhealthy personality and sense of self with social and emotional difficulties (2). These difficulties and unhealthy personalities affect our bonds with people because we are seen as “difficult”, being irritable and unpredictable. Harry Harlow, John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and Erik Erikson all developed the idea of attachment and how it works so psychologist today can study more about how bonds form, differences in the bonds, and the effect they has on children.

Harry Harlow’s, John Bowlby’s, Mary Ainsworth’s, and Erik Erikson’s creation and development of attachment has helped many people. One of the leading theories that guides many parents, psychologist, and teaches who work form an attachment perspective comes from John Bowlby’s theory of attachment stating “that security of attachment is made, not born; that is, it is a result of lived experience rather than a byproduct of inborn biological makeup” (4). To test John Bowlby’s theory that secure attachments come from the nurturing of a mother rather than biological, Mary Ainsworth conducted a study to test the influences on infant attachment security. She concluded that “it is sensitive mothering/caregiving in particular that fosters security in the infant and young child.

Infants establish secure attachments when caregivers recognize the infant’s signals, accurately interpret them and respond in a timely fashion and an appropriate manner (4). Mary Ainsworth supported John Bowlby’s theory of attachment and proved that secure attachments come from the nurturing/response of a caregiver. In the end it has be concluded that “children develop their opinions about themselves by observing the way caregivers respond and communicate with them. A parent’s feedback or opinion about them is a social mirror and is used to form self-images and self-judgments” (5) showing that secure attachments come from the nurturing of a mother not biological factors.

While many Psychologist believe that a secure attachment is not formed by biological factors, but rather the nurturing of a mother there are some biological/natural factors that can affect attachment, such as: Temperament and environment. Temperament is an epigenetic that originates in genes. It is a neurobiological element that is different in every person causing differences in people’s emotions, sociability, and self-control. “The concept of temperament can help parents understand and accept the characteristics of their children without feeling responsible for having caused them. Identifying children’s temperaments may also allow for adjustment in parenting styles” (5). Environment in this instance is not talking about the natural world but rather the conditions that a person lives in. There are many natural stressors in one’s life, such as: Income family size, parental age/education, loss of a parent, birth of a sibling, severe illness, marital relationships, and breakdown that all affect the quality of attachment relationships. Nurturing is a very important part of creating a secure attachment, but sometimes there are natural/biological factors that we cannot control that affect our bonds.

Nature and nurture are not the only factors that affect attachment because attachment differs for culture to culture. To start caregiving relative to sensitivity differs between American and Japanese cultures. In the Japanese culture “Japanese parents prefer to anticipate their infant’s needs by relying on situational cues” while “parents in the United States, by comparison, prefer to wait for their infants to communicate their needs before taking steps to meet those needs (6).

The difference is sensitivity shows that in the Japanese culture they focus on helping kids regulate their emotions while in the American culture meeting the child’s needs to meet their desires. Another huge difference between these cultures is competence in children. Children in Japan “are more often encouraged to distinguish in-group from out-group members and to fear and avoid unknown others” while children in America “who are classified as securely attached as infants are later more likely to be willing and able to venture forth on their own” (6). The difference in competence shows that children in Japan are less likely to socialize with a stranger which is not viewed as social competence.

The last big difference is self-expression and sociability. In American culture a “quality that is associated with individuation and with security of attachment in U.S. children is emotional openness” while “emotional openness is less likely to be seen as a desirable quality in Japan” (6). Therefore, showing that people in American Culture are less dependent than people in Japanese Culture. Caregiving relative to sensitivity, competence in children, and self-expression and sociability are different amounts American and Japanese cultures which affects the bonds that children have with their caregivers.

You’re probably wondering why attachment varies from culture to culture. Well looking at the American and Japanese cultures you can see a difference in ethnic origin, religion, and individualism/collectivism. Attachment varies throughout cultures as it shapes interpersonal behaviors “Several developmental factors that vary by ethnicity may reasonably lead to ethnic differences in attachment distributions, including variations in relational models and variations in emotion socialization” (7). When it comes to religion “Most research on religion and attachment has focused on religiosity, or how religious an individual is” concluding that people who are more securely attached are those people who are religious (7).

Individualism/collectivism is different though because many people do not think about this as a difference in culture. Individualism/collectivism “can be defined simply: collectivists merge their identity with that of their in group, prioritizing the collective goals over their personal goals, while individualists place their own identity and goals over that of the collective” (7). This results in changes to the relationship between attachment and cultures. Ethnicity, religion and individualism/collectivism are big reasons why attachment would be different across cultures, but sometimes it can be hard to see these differences and apply such a concept across many cultures.

Many people have asked why attachment could be difficult of apply cross culturally. There are many unsolved issues with attachment being a cross cultural idea, such as: Is attachment universal or culturally specific and do children making different attachments to many people. When Mary Ainsworth started studying attachment theory she studied bonds of mothers and infants in Uganda, and it took decades before the theory was studied cross-culturally where western cultures have the majority. This shows that “almost all cross-cultural studies of attachment are etic (applying Western constructs and methods to observations of non-Western cultures) rather than emic (applying constructs and methods developed within a culture)” (8).

Infants have many caregivers in their lives: Mother, Father, and Babysitters whom they create a bond with. The issue is “the fact that there can be multiple attachments with different states of mind with regard to the relationship with each person is ignored in the measurement of adult attachment by the AAI which, except for extreme discrepancies, attachment to mother and father are combined into one overall category” (8). Parent involvement is different throughout cultures where one parent stays home while the other works or where both work and there is a babysitter. To measure attachment to everyone in one category is could be inaccurate when applied to different cultures.

Attachment is a huge aspect of psychosocial development throughout life, and there are many factors that can affect our longstanding bond with others. Attachment is different throughout culture making the level of attachment different for each person. The psychologists in this essay have really helped people understand and expect why their kids are. Sometimes it’s because they did not get enough nurturing but others is just because that is the gene the kids was dealt. Looking back at your childhood, what kind of attachment do you have with your parents?

Cite this paper

Attachment Theory in Psychosocial Development. (2021, Jul 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/attachment-theory-in-psychosocial-development/

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