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Attachment Theory and Childhood Development

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Childcare
Wordcount: 2417 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Attachment Theory

 Childhood development is a critical and basic structure predicting the way in which an individual will grow for the rest of their lives. The many events and milestones in a child’s life in ultimately influence their upbringing and who they become as whole human beings.  Psychologically, children who have a positive and warm upbringing are expected to develop somewhat smoothly. However, as a child, the most important aspect of this and contributor involves the ways a child attaches early on to their primary caregivers. The attachment theory was developed through the collaboration of several researchers, nevertheless, John Bowlby is the psychologist who ultimately came up with the theory as a whole. According to Fletcher (2016), Bowlby’s theory describes a fundamental structure of studying how the development of an individual’s emotional connections interacts with primary caregivers. Primary caregivers have shown more intense attachment successes as well as issues when it comes to infant-caregiver relationships with a mother figure in comparison to father figures.

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 Bowlby’s attachment theory has been tested, reviewed and studied for over many decades. It provides a configuration to go on to study and understand the development of emotional connections with primary caregivers. There has been a major connection seen between psychological distress as an adult that is effectively related to the difficultly and trauma that can appear in early attachment relationships. Bowlby’s interest in this subject was initially developed while he was working in a home for disturbed boys, he worked with two boys who had very different and drastic responses to being separated from their mothers. In addition, he observed one of his colleagues James Robertson who developed a study viewing the reactions of children who were separated from their mothers during periods of hospitalizations. The children responded with a great awareness along with sense of loss and anger, several of the children responded when being reunited as either characteristically clingy or extremely detached and displaying signs of rejection toward their caregivers. In the process of developing his theory, Bowlby drew from countless other psychologists to create the attachment theory. Conclusively in the text, Fletcher (2016) discusses how it is imperative for an individual to have a positive mental wellbeing, and children need to practice this idea of successful relationships, its vital to have “warm intimate and continuous relationships with his mother... in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.” (as cited in Bowlby, 1973, p. 11). This theory has been critically looked at and is still extensively studied, however there are some discrepancies that people recently have been trying to discover more within the theory, definitively saying that this theory might not be as cut and clear at it used to be.

 A major aspect of the parent to infant child attachment is the amount the infant spends time with each caregiver involved in their life. Lickenbrock, Braungart-Riker (2015) explore the differences in ties between infant-caregiver relationships with fathers and mothers. Some of the factors that were examined include; parental sensitivity, parental involvement and marital status. Parental sensitivity is crucial to development in infancy, “research has consistently shown that the degree to which mothers are sensitive toward their infants can influence the extent to which an infant develops a secure attachment relationship with his/her mother.” (as cited Ainsworth et al., 1978). Parental involvement is usually a stronger attachment with mothers due to the fact that research has shown mothers typically being the ones who are spending more time with them. (as cited Marsiglio, Amato, Day & Lamb 2000; Parke, 2000). Initially, it was revealed that mothers are more likely to be present in their children’s life, compared to fathers due to involvement in life lacking due to absent fathers. However, there is a further and newer researching displaying contradictory evidence with mixed results, “fathers who were more involved were more likely to have secure parent-infant attachment relationships,” (as cited Caldera, 2004; Cox, Owen, Henderson & Margand, 1992) displaying that father-infant relationships might be based on the level of involvement in the child’s life. Research has shown the significance of why it is critical to examine both mothers and fathers with regard to attachment theory due to marital status being a massive factor. There are many ways in which marital status can affect the ways that mothers and fathers are parenting their children, “low marital satisfaction is related to fathers’, but not mothers’ withdrawal from their marital relationships,” explaining how marital issues effect distance that fathers take from a child’s life in comparison to mothers (as cited in Barnett, Deng, Mills-Koonce, Willoughby, & Cox 2008). Further research shows evidence that mothers are more flexible when it comes to taking on several roles, “indicating that mother’s negative marital relationships may not carry-over and impact their parent-child relationships,” (as cited in Cummings et al., 2000). This indicates that fathers commonly battle the role of sticking a parental role. This research further defends more reasoning as to why mother-infant child are so critical due to history displaying father’s absence having a major impact on attachment security. 

A variety of research describes ways that attachment can be affected, Williams and Blunk took into account the idea of how infant attachment is not only due to the smooth attachment between the caregiver and child, but a major factor in a successful attachment can often be due to who the caregiver is. Primary caregivers are the ones who take care of and offer the emotional and physical needs of a child. Much of Bowlby’s research involves primary givers being the mothers, however researchers Fuertes, Faria, Beeghly, and Santos (2016), explore the effects of attachment between mother-infant and father-infant attachment. Due to past research, they believed that mothers would be more likely to cultivate a healthy secure attachment in comparison with fathers. All the sessions in this research, were taped using a hidden camera while in a session of free play with the infant. Each pair was assessed using the CARE-Index and were measured on three dimensions with the parent’s behaviors with the infants and the infant’s interactive behavior with the parent. Their definitive results were consistent with earlier research that mothers are seen as being more sensitive toward infants, and more cooperative with mothers than with their fathers. This kind of research further shows develops proving why mothers are habitually the ones who are seen as primary caregivers, mothers are seen as being more sensitive, while father-child relationships usually develop later on in life. More evidence that supports this could be due to the fact that typically when a child is born, the mother has to be the primary caregiver based on how they decide to feed the baby, typically if a mother is breastfeeding an infant their bond forms quicker and the mother will need to be there more. However, on the other hand if the family decides to bottle feed the baby, there is more opportunity for the child to form bonds with either another caregiver or whoever will be there for feedings, which can be a major impact on connection with the infant to caregiver.

A major question in psychology discusses how attachment theory might be too much of a specific step-by-step theory, questioning if this sort of attachment pattern is a predictor for the rest of life or not. Philip A. Cowan and Carolyn Pape Cowan from the University of California, Berkley dive into the discussion of numerous unanswered issues with attachment theory. Their research primarily deals with attachment to parents and the way this impacts later intimate relationships, which they use as predictors for these relationships. Of the questions discussed from these two explores whether early attachment to a caregiver is associated with later relationships, “individuals often actively seek intimate relationships that make up for what they lacked in the past,” demonstrating how often these early attachments can be led to later issues as one gets older. A major question looked at by them deals with how culture might affect the way in which a parent might have different views on parental sensitivity and attachment. One incredibly major difference in parenting styles seen across the world is between Japanese and American cultures, they “have such different views of maternal sensitivity and child security, there must be fundamental differences in attachment in the two cultures,” and typically American cultures parent with more sensitivity toward their children and see this as an important aspect of the parent to child relationship, whereas in cultures in Japan, China and other similar cultures, the importance of obedience and respect for the parent is valued higher than being more sensitive to their child’s needs (as cited Rothbaum et al., 2000). In sum, this research has help others with understanding these relationships, further research on these questions about the reliability of the past theory have questioned and as well brought up some good aspects of parenting that need to be further researched. An unlimited amount of research still needs to be done, however they hope to find more improved ways to measure attachment in order to further help individuals today with relationships throughout their life.

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Another pair of researchers who explore the progress of attachment theory highlight a few aspects where issues arise. Attachment measures needing to be improved, exploring if attachment is influenced by environment or not, if there is a continuous flow between generations or if this type of theory is changing with each generation, and as well argue that attachment theory is not stable, change between stages in life is the norm and is not something anymore that is set in stone are all questions that R.M. Pasco Fearon and Glenn I Roisman tackle in their research (2017). A main focus of their article’s debates in recent years, using twin studies, “the role of environment – versus genes,” delivering a perfect way to see differences in the way children grow up. Many of the studies concluded that environment has a huge impact of the ways in which a child attaches early on, “existing twin studies have lacked power to detect genetic effects,” concluding that genetics have very little impact on the way an individual connects with caregivers. There however, is still more research that needs to be continued to learn about how environment is a factor of attachment due to the connection between attachment and sensitivity being a main focus. Further researcher and results from these two discuss how there has been an insufficient curiosity to the quality of attachments and the stability it shows over a life-span is needed to be further looked into.

When it comes to the attachment theory, many have viewed this theory as effective and concrete for the rest of time. Many view that these sorts of attachments are typical when it comes to parenting due to the nature of how things used to be when it came to the stereotypical ways in which parenting was approached. It used to be conventional that mothers often were who stay at home and form this relationship with their children which is a huge defense for the idea behind why secure-attachments form more often with mothers. However, today research also shows that as time as changed, this sort of old fashion family style changed, and families come in all shapes in sizes. It is critical to not only examine parental attachments as a whole, but the ways in which families differ, as the “typical” family today has changed vastly ever since this theory was first critically looked at. Research by Fearon and Rosiman (2017), dive into the support that attachment measures should be better established and whether or not we should be looking at attachment as principally a psychological aspect of development, or if biology can contribute to this as well.


  • Condon, J., Corkindale, C., Boyce, P., & Gamble, E. (2013). A longitudinal study of father-to-infant attachment: Antecedents and correlates. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 31(1), 15-30. doi:10.1080/02646838.2012.757694
  • Cowan, P. A., & Cowan, C. P. (2007). Attachment theory: Seven unresolved issues and questions for future research. Research in Human Development, 4(3-4), 181-201. doi:10.1080/15427600701663007
  • Hart, S. L. (2018). Jealousy and attachment: Adaptations to threat posed by the birth of a sibling. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 12(4), 263-275. doi:10.1037/ebs0000102
  • Fletcher, H. K., & Gallichan, D. J. (2016). An overview of attachment theory: Bowlby and beyond. In H. K. Fletcher, A. Flood & D. J. Hare (Eds.), (pp. 8-32) Wiley-Blackwell. doi:10.1002/9781118938119.ch2 Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2016-01744-002&site=ehost-live
  • Fuertes, M., Faria, A., Beeghly, M., & Lopes-dos-Santos, P. (2016). The effects of parental sensitivity and involvement in caregiving on mother–infant and father–infant attachment in a Portuguese sample. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(1), 147-156. doi:10.1037/fam0000139
  • Lickenbrock, D. M., & Braungart-Rieker, J. (2015). Examining antecedents of infant attachment security with mothers and fathers: An ecological systems perspective. Infant Behavior & Development, 39, 173-187. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2015.03.003
  • Williams, S. W., & Blunk, E. M. (2003). Sex differences in infant-mother attachment. Psychological Reports, 92(1), 84-88. doi:10.2466/PR0.92.1.84-88


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