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Discuss the four attachment patterns and the impact of each on our ability to express closeness throughout the stages of adulthood.


A: Attachment and how it occurs

            Attachment is the close emotional bond between the infant and the caregiver that allows them to experience contentment when they interact. After about 2 weeks the infant begins to show distinct preference for his primary caregiver and anxiety when he encounters a strangers; this separation anxiety—as it is called—signals that the child has already developed some measure of attachment to the caregiver (Bower, 1977). This observation seems to supports Freud’s theory. He believes the infant-caregiver bond is created when the child seeks and gains oral satisfaction. With this in mind, it is easy to see why the mother usually becomes the person the child is most attached to; as she is the one performing the feeding function, particularly during the first few months of the infant’s life. (Berk, 2001; Santrock, 2000)


Nevertheless, as compelling as Freud’s theory is, there are many who offer alternative explanations as to how and why attachment occurs. Behaviourists Harry Harlow and Robert Zimmerman conclude that the collective behaviours accompanying feeding, and not the feeding itself, is the defining factor of attachment. Nurturing actions such as caressing, smiling and the general comfort the baby feels during suckle help to create a setting in which emotional support and companionship is reciprocated. Harlow and Zimmerman present a scenario which explains why infants form ties with individuals other than their primary caregiver who perform little or no role feeding wise. (Santrock, 2000; Bower, 1977).


Cognitive Developmentalists, like Kohlberg believe attachment is formed when the child begins responding discriminately to the stimuli from his social world (separating the persons he recognizes from those he does not). The bond is cemented when the child understands the concept of person permanence and is no longer fearful when the caregiver leaves his presence, hence elimination or greatly reducing separation anxiety. (Sigelman and Shaffer, 1995)


John Bowlby, in his ethological arguments, contends that infants and parents are deemed by biological evolution to form special bonds. Crying, smiling, cooing, clinging and babbling are all innate baby behaviours which caregivers find hard to resist because they have already been programmed to respond to them. This biological mechanism that ensures parent and child are in close proximity to each other, evolved to assure the child’s survival, but in doing so it has managed to foster attachment. Bowlby does caution, however, that the quality of this attachment is greatly dependent on the ongoing interaction between the parent and child. (Sigelman and Shaffer, 1995).


B-i: Four Attachment Patterns

Mary Ainsworth, in an attempt to understand how infants bond with their primary caregivers, created several situations involving parent, child and stranger and then took the opportunity to observe the child’s behavior in the different situations. These situations were the infant and mother alone; the infant, mother and strange; and the infant and stranger alone in the room. Upon concluding her study, Ainsworth in Patterns of Attachment, described her findings and produced four attachment styles she believes each child will, more of less, adhere to. One secure and three insecure patterns: Resistant, Avoidant and Disorganised.


Secure typed infants use their mothers as a constant base for exploration and in her presence, the child is outgoing with strangers. When she leaves the room he (the child) may show some tears but is quickly comforted and upon her return she is openly greeted (Sigelman and Shaffer, 1995). Characteristics associated with them are empathy, positive emotional states and positive interactions with peers and adults. Pre-school teachers describe secure children as cooperative, socially competent and popular (Berk, 2001; Baron and Byrne, 2000)


Resistant typed attachment is characterized by ambivalence towards the mother. There is a disturbance in the balance that should exist between the parent and child. At times the child anxiously sought the attention of his mother, while on other occasions he avoided her. He is unlikely to explore in the mother’s presence, suggesting she does not serve as a base, yet when she departs he often show much stronger separation anxiety that the securely attached child (Sigelman and Shaffer, 1995; Ainsworth, 1978). Resistant infants are often disruptive and difficult, they engage in apathetic behaviour and both feelings of anger and dependency are expressed toward adults (Berk, 2001; Baron and Byrne, 2000).


Avoidant typed infants seem to have distanced themselves from their parents. They don’t respond to their mother’s presence and when she leaves they show very little, if any, distress. They are not particularly wary of strangers and their behaviour toward them (the strangers) is similar to those directed at the parents. Avoidant children labeled “loners” usually fit into this category, they are described as hostile and distant towards others and would much prefer to do things on their own rather than ask for help. (Sigelman and Shaffer, 1995; Baron and Byrne, 2000; Berk, 2001).


Disorganized typed infants show a combination of Avoidant and Resistant styles. Its primary factor is confusion, resulting in contradictory behaviour such as approaching a parent yet remaining distant or avoiding a parent even though they show clear signs of needing closeness. This puts them at high risk for becoming hostile aggressive preschoolers. It is important to note that this style particularly characterizes children who have been abused (Sigelman and Shaffer, 1995).


These four patterns have been developed via American research and calls into question their universal validity. For example the Avoidant and Resistant figures jump significantly when they same study is carried out in other parts of the world. However, differing childcare practices and parenting techniques will produced varying results, a notion used to explain the spike in the insecure attachment figures. Furthermore, secure attachment figures have consistently proven far higher than the insecure patterns in all cultures studied to date, this finding seemingly attests to the relevance and validity of Ainsworth’s study and her subsequent categorizations (Berk, 2001).


B-ii) Attachment Patterns’ effect on our ability to express Closeness throughout the Stages of Adulthood


As described by John Bowlby, self esteem and interpersonal trust are the two schemas the child develops from interactions with the primary caregiver. The actions of the caregiver communicate to the child that he is either wanted, loved and precious or none of the above, hence defining the child’s self esteem. Also from these actions the child creates a picture of the caregiver as trustworthy and dependable or on the flip side unreliable. Here the child begins to construct his idea of interpersonal trust. These two parts create an important whole because they determine the nature of the relationships the child will have later in life with other members of society. In essence, the framework he develops for familial interactions becomes the model schema he uses to interact with persons in the wider society. (Baron and Byrne, 2000)


Secure typed adults are able to establish and maintain relationships with friends and lovers that involve high levels of trust and intimacy. According to Hazan and Shaver, they believe in enduring love, are self-confident and see others as trustworthy. They don’t worry about being abandoned or about their partners being too intimate. Outside of the social and into the professional context, secure adults tend to experience more job satisfaction as they have created good faithful relationships with their co-workers making the work time spent more enjoyable (Baron and Byrne, 2000). However an infant who didn’t form a secure attachment with the primary caregiver tend to be emotionally crippled, disabling their ability to form meaningful connections. Hazan and Shaver write that these adults have many doubts and insecurities and experience love as a painful preoccupation where they will be abandoned because their partner really doesn’t love them. Even more extreme some fear and avoid closeness with others and believe they do not need love to be happy. And so it results that isolation becomes their only friend.


Following isolation, Insecurely bonded people, around middle adulthood suffer stagnation. Not having enjoyed those things that a positive relationship offers, life’s meaning continue to slip away from them and so they can not appropriately guide the next generation on how to live theirs. All this contributes to feeling trapped in an existence that is hardly worth the air it takes to sustain them. On the other hand, securely attached people experience a period of generativity when they can effectively guide others since they themselves have lived a meaningful life.


In old age generativity gives way to satisfaction with the knowledge that one has spent well his time on earth. This evaluated integrity prevents them from fearing the end. Nonetheless, the disorganized, resistant and avoidant typed individual’s entire life of insecure ties leading to later disappointment, isolation and stagnation, all culminate in a feeling of despair. Reflection revealing that he has no significant bond, and has contributed no real social insight to those after him can only produce a feeling of despair.


C: Infant Attachment Not Necessarily the Determining Factor in Adult Closeness

The above information suggests that during infancy, if children are not in the ideal situation of being in close contact with one primary caregiver, they will find adjusting to society difficult. Hence only experiencing the negative sides of the developmental tasks in other stages of life especially adulthood. Psychologists who have studied children in extended Day Care and state run Child-Rearing institutions provide evidence to support this thought. They argue that infants in these agencies cannot form secure bonds as they may have several primary caregivers over a short period of time. Even if this is not true and there is permanence in caregiving, the primary source has so many other infants to care for that the quality of contact is greatly diminished. From their research, they conclude that Children who were reared by these two agencies are far more likely to endured difficult lives because of the insecure attachment fostered by the environment they grew up in. (Berk, 2001; Sigelman and Shaffer, 1995)


Nevertheless secure well-adjusted individuals do emerge from group care and some developmentalists use this fact as evidence to dispute the infant attachment theory. Jerome Kegan, believe far too much importance is placed on secure attachment in infancy. He sees infants as highly resilient and adaptive creature that evolution has programmed to stay on the positive developmental path, regardless of parenting pattern or structure. In fact, he sees the infant’s genetic and temperamental dispositions as more critical in his ability to be a socially competent human being. They absolutely acknowledge the importance of “competent nurturant, caregivers” [1] but they question the idea that attachment, particularly to a single caregiver, is crucial in later social fitness (Santrock, 2000).


D: Conclusion

            Attachment is the bond between caregiver and child and is seen by most to be of great significance in that it is a preview of the relationships we will later have. Meaning whatever style we adopt in infancy will decide how we interpret, experience and mange closeness throughout adulthood. Though this thought has been sustained by many longitudinal studies, it is being greatly debated today, for others have put forward the idea that children have the ability change the effects of their negative environs and become perfectly sociable persons.






Ainsworth, M. D. , Blehar M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of

attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation. New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Baron, R. and Byrne, D. (2000). Social psychology. Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon

Berk, L.E. (2001). Development through the lifespan. Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon

Bower, T. G. R. (1977). A primer of infant development. USA: Freeman and


Santrock, J. W. (2000). Psychology. USA: Mcgraw-Hill

Sigelman C. K. and Shaffer D. R. (1995). Life-span human devlopment. California:

Brooks and Cole

[1] John Santrock (2000). Psychology. USA: Mcgraw-Hill