Attachment Theory: The Quality Of Infant Relationships With Their Caregiver

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How does the quality of an infant to caregiver relationship effect a child’s development in the later stages of their life? John Bowlby’s attachment theory is an attempt at describing the interpersonal relationships between humans. Using studies based off the attachment theory to explore the effects of an infant to caregiver relationship to the adult relationships.

Ainsworth (1970) used the “Strange Situation” which comprised of 100 middle class American families in a small room, where there is a one-way glass to observe the infants and mothers as they are put in various situations with a stranger and observe the baby’s reactions as the stranger is also put into the room. The procedure is done in 8 episodes of 3 minutes each; episode 1, Mother, baby, and experimenter; episode 2, Mother and baby alone; episode 3, Mother, Infant, and a Stranger; episode 4, mother leaves stranger and infant alone; episode 5, Mother returns and stranger leaves; episode 6, Mother leaves infant completely alone; episode 7, Stranger returns; episode 8, mother returns and stranger. Ainsworth determined that there were 3 types of attachments, secure, insecure resistant, and insecure avoidant. It was discovered that infants of secure attachment felt that they could rely on the mother to take care of its needs and seek the mother whenever they are distressed. Secure attachment infants are easily soothed by the mother and very responsive to her when responding to their needs. Insecure avoidant attachment are infants who are very independent and do not feel attached to the mother. In times of distress they do not seek the mother usually due to the mother not being available in such situations. Insecure resistant attachment is when the child is unable to determine what they want from the mother. The infant will usually be clingy but rejects the mother’s notions when trying to give care to the infant. While they don’t have any feelings of security, they also find it difficult to leave the mother. This is due to an inconsistent level of care for the infant. Ainsworth concluded that warm and sensitive mothers are more likely to have securely attached children, while less sensitive mothers are more likely to have insecurely attached children. In other theories, is proposed by Wolff and Van Ijzendoorn (1997) that it’s not just the mother’s level of care but rather the correlation between how the infant reacts to how the mother cares for the infant that determines which stage of attachment the infant develops.

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Infants of secure attachment tend to be more resistant to stress, form better relationships with other people, willingness to try new things, and they tend to be better problem solvers. Insecure children tend to avoid people, exaggerate distress, and tend to show anger, anxiety, and fear. In childhood and infancy, the baby relies on the mother, usually the mother to experience pleasure, joy, safety and comfort. For optimal development, a consistent mother is necessary. Attachment theory is based on the idea that the infant imprints the mothers’ interactions with it as the primary source of how an infant develop and organizes their personality around the mother. Infants tend to instinctively search for the safety provided by the mother, while the mother instinctively tends to nurture the child. Behaviors such as sucking and crying tend to help maximize the development of the infants physical and emotional development. While these actions may take on different meanings depending on the culture and environment of where the infant is being raised but the attachment relationship remains universal. Infants start to develop a preference for the mother starting at 2 months of age, where by 7 months of age the infant has a preference of the mother and start to develop separation anxiety. At the age of 1, the infant starts to explore the world with the mother as a safe base to return to in times of distress and danger. During the phase just before entering preschool, the child will learn to tolerate moderate separation from the mother and willingness to interact with other people. They tend to cling to the mother as once they leave the mother, they are exposed to more danger and they show separation anxiety. In western cultures, it is commonly believed that this act is a regression, while psychologist believe this is an adaptive behavior that allows the child to ensure its survival and socialization. By adolescence, securely attached children tend to develop more self-esteem, positive reactions with other people, and success in academics. Insecure resistant children tend to be more opposed to separating from the mother and may show anger when they need comfort. These symptoms may also indicate difficulty in social and behavioral problems later in life. Insecure avoidant is usually when the mother is negligent of the infant in times of need, and such they infant will be more ready to separate from the mother and may show other people more affection than that of their own mother. These children appear to have no preference to the mother and become emotionally distant from the mother. From these symptoms it can be inferred that a baby requires warm affectionate responses in its time of need in order to properly develop mentally and physically. Children whose needs are met with the appropriate amount of affection and care tend to be able cope with and develop positive reactions in society and solve problems. Children whose needs are neglected or are not appropriately tended to tend to develop insecurities that case more anxiety where they are more emotionally invested in the mother for survival or show little to no preference to the mother for being unable to meet such needs and may be more favorable to strangers who may have met the needs the mother wasn’t able to provide. As such attachment in child infancy affects how the child will first interact with people in there first time outside the mother’s protection, usually in preschool. Secure children have their needs met in infancy can explore the world and show positive longer lasting relationships with the world due to having their safety needs met at an early age, while insecure children who have been neglected tend to be more resistant to change and may seek ways aside from the mother for meeting their safety needs.

In contrast for developing their gender role models ,Sigmund Freud believed that during the phallic stage, around the age of 4-5 that boys have Oedipus complex, where the boy believes the father is a rival for his mother’s love and in order to cope with the situation out of fear that the father would castrate him, the boy would join his father and adopts the fathers traits and later become a role model and later substitutes other women for his mother creating his masculine superego. Girls are similar in the Electra complex where rather than being afraid of castration the girl believes she has already been castrated and desires the father’s penis as a substitute. When the girl finds out that it is not acceptable the girl then identifies with her mother creating her feminine superego.

Hazan and Shaver (1987) were the first two researchers to use attachment theory on the romantic relationship of adults. In their interpretation, they believed that there was a parallel in is motivated by the same attachment an infant had for their caregiver. Hazan and Shaver deduced that infant and caregiver and adult romantic partners had the following in common; both feel safe when the other is nearby and responsive, engage in close intimate bodily contact, insecure when the other isn’t accessible, share discoveries with one another, playing with each other’s facial features and exhibit mutual fascination and preoccupation with one another, engage in “baby talk”. They argued that the attachment system is linked to the adult’s future romantic interests. As such, this theory states that if you observe the romantic relationship between two adult partners, you should be able to see the same characteristics as the relationship between caregiver and child. In a secure relationship the adult will feel confident that the partner will be able to meet their needs and are more willing to depend on others and have others depend on them. An insecure resistant relationship, the partner worries that they may not be completely loved and react more aggressively when their needs have not been met. Insecure avoidant relationships tend to be less emotionally invested in relationships where they prefer not to depend on other people and have others depend on them. An adults secure or insecure relationship reflects their experience with their caregiver. A secure child would believe that there are people there for them from past experiences that made them believe this to be true. As such they tend to seek out similar relationships and believe that other relationships should also fall in line with those beliefs.

To conclude, it is believed that the relationships between child and caregiver is what molds the infant into what they become as an adult. Secure children tend to seek secure relationships as an adult, while insecure children will have many doubts about relationships with other. The quality of infant relationships with their caregiver is what decides how they will perceive relationships from being an infant to an adult.


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