Attachment Behaviours Why have psychologists stressed the importance of attachment behaviours in development? Many theorists agree that social contact early in a child’s life is important for healthy personality development. This is the most important relationship of the child development period as it is from this that the child drives its confidence in the world. A break from this relationship is experienced as highly distressing and constitutes a considerable trauma (Schaffer 1964). Through frequent social and emotional exchanges with parents the infant not only defines itself, but also acquires a particular style and orientation that some researchers believe is carried over into later life (Sroufe 1978). Therefore, the relationship between an infant and its caregiver and its development is one that has generated much interest to developmental psychologists. John Bowlby (1958, 1968) put forward a comprehensive account of attachment and believed that the infant and mother instinctively trigger each other’s behaviour to form an attachment bond.
Attachment can therefore be defined as ‘ the ability to form focused, permanent and emotionally meaningful relationships with specific others’ (Butterworth & Harris 1994). In child psychology, attachment is often restricted to a relationship between particular social figures and to a particular phenomenon thought to reflect unique characteristics of the relationship ( Santrock & Bartlett 1986). This essay will attempt to examine the role and importance of attachment behaviours in development. In Bowlby’s view, there is a dyadic emotional regulation between the infant and the mother or caregiver. The infant has innate signals to elicit responses from the caregiver. Conversely, infant behaviour such as crying, cooing, smiling etc are elicited by the caregivers specific actions e.g. leaving the room or putting the infant down.
Santrock and Bartlett (1986) found that ‘the infant’s behaviour is directed by the primary goal of maintaining the mother’s proximity. The baby processes information about the mother’s location and changes his behaviour based on this fact. Thusinstinct or a fixed pattern is the primary force for developmental change, but is transformed through social experience.’ This reciprocal tie of mother and infant is a state that ensures care and protection during the most vulnerable period of development. This attachment to the mother has a clear biological survival value, explaining the significance of the mother-infant interaction within the overall framework of attachment behaviour. Sroufe (1991) supports this view, he maintains that attachment refers to a behavioural system, which is ‘selected for its effect on the reproductive success of individuals in the environment in which they evolved.’ Bowlby argued that different attachment behaviours, such as crying, following etc, are functionally related, in that all may lead to the same outcome – the caregiver-infant proximity (Sroufe 1991). Bowlby argues that attachment, is therefore a primary process, which is innate, and is mediated by social interchange.
Here the visual channel plays an important role, i.e. through smiling and eye to eye contacts. Bowlby outlined four phases of the development of attachment as an integrated system of behaviours in infants: Phase 1:- Birth – 2/3 months The infant directs his attachment to human figures on an instinctual bias; all are equally likely to elicit smiling or crying because the infant is not discriminating. Phase 2:- 3-6 months The infant’s attachment focuses on one figure, typically the primary caregiver. Phase 3:- 6-9 months The intensity of attachment to the mother or caregiver increases.
Due to this and newly acquired motor skills, the infant now readily seeks the proximity to the caregiver. Phase 4:- 9-12 months The elements of attachment listed above become integrated into a mutual system of attachment to which both infant and mother contribute. Bowlby argued that communication between the infant and the caregiver takes the form of non verbal communication, this can be eye to eye contact, or face to face interaction. He went on to propose that the baby’s smile is the essential catalyst that generates the infant-caregiver interaction. The interaction goes through positive feedback on both sides until it becomes a conversation of visually perceived gestures.
Wright (1991) outlines the progress of this progression of ‘smiling’ in the development of attachment behaviours: Begins at birth: At first the smile is fleeting and incomplete. 4-5 weeks: The smile is now nearly complete and the trigger for the smile becomes more specific. 5-6 weeks: The smile response is now fully formed. 6-10 weeks: The mother/caregivers face evokes a more immediate and generous smile than any other does. 2-3 months: The smile response to the mothers/ caregivers and other familiars becomes more dominant; with responses to strangers becoming weaker. 8 months onwards: The specificity of response becomes firmly established; strangers are responded to quite differently from familiar faces, and the mother/ caregivers face evokes the strongest response of all.
Experiments confirm that after the fifth week happy visual interactions elicit a smile response from a baby. In weeks 6 to 12 the baby is learning the characteristics of human faces by tracking the face, the hairline etc. The child will also grin when eye contact is finally made. Studies support the view that the eyes are the most important part of the ‘visual gestalt’ that elicits a smile (Wright 1991). Therefore, the mother’s face and the baby’s smile are the central features of the playful interaction that is basic to the attachment process. The baby’s responses become increasingly directed and specific; the mother’s pleasure in and responsiveness to her baby increase as she feels that her baby recognises her.
‘Here is a conversation without words, a smiling between faces, at the heart of human development.’ (Wright 1991) Findings from animal studies of behaviour influenced Bowlby ideas. Harlow and Zimmerman (1959) conducted an experiment that proved that attachment was not based on the supply of food involving infant monkeys. The infant monkeys were placed in a cage with two, wire mesh, surrogate monkey mothers. One was covered with terrycloth fabric while the other was left as it was. The infant monkeys were fed from the wire mother. The hypothesis was that if the main cause for attachment was food then one would expect that the monkeys would cling to the wire monkey which supplied milk.
In actual fact, the monkeys preferred to spend their time between feedings close to or clinging to the cloth mother. They would also jump on this when frightened. Harlow’s studies demonstrate the importance of physical contact for the attachment bond. Other interesting findings from this experiment were that the baby’s raised from birth in the laboratory did not establish healthy social behaviours. They did not engage in typical mating behaviour, and mother monkeys proved to be neglectful and abusive towards their offspring, not cuddling or feeding their young. Harlow attributed this disruptive behaviour to the lack of social contact with other monkeys during development (Brodzinsky,Gormly & Ambron 1979). Schaffer and Emerson (1964) conducted an influen …