A qualitative study about the effects of attachment on development as perceived by adults.

Abstract

Attachment proponents claim that childhood vertical relationships have a significant effect on development and adult horizontal relationships. This qualitative study, using the various perspectives of attachment theory, examines the ways adults perceive the effects of childhood relationships with significant others (i.e. parents and siblings) on their development. A pre-recorded edited semi-structured interview provided the data for the qualitative textual analysis while the thematic analysis of the data showed that the significant others in childhood have a perceived effect on his development and later adult relationships.

Introduction

Attachment proponents claim that childhood vertical relationships have a significant effect on development while human lifespan developmental studies look to account for the influences acting during the development of individuals in terms of internal and external factors. The goal is to identify consistent connections between earlier experiences and behavior at a latter point (continuities). The focal point is understanding how vertical relationships (child-parent) effect the patterns of later horizontal relationships (adult-adult). ).

Harris (1999 as cited in Wood, Littleton & Oates J., 2007, p. 20) argues that during development the relationship with primary caretakers was not as influential as peer relationships. This is contradicted by attachment theorist, namely Bowlby (1969/82 as cited in: Wood et al, 2007, pp. 28-29), who claims that vertical relationships in childhood is just as important. It is believed that an individuals ???significant others??? become part of their mental life thereby contributing to their psychological well-being.

According to Bowlby (ibid), the way an individual enters and maintains close relationships is based on relationship patterns retained in the internalized childhood vertical relationships (Bretherton, 1997, as cited in Wood et al, 2007, p. 344). This internal working model (IWM) reflects the feelings and thoughts about the self and the self in relation to others (Kretchmar, Worsham & Swenson, 2005, as cited in Wood et al, 2007, p. 348) as well as expectations of the behavior of others and their own behavior due to these expectations (Wood et al, 2007, pp. 32). Three main attachment types, which were (a) insecure, anxious avoidant, (b) secure and (c) insecure, anxious ambivalent, were identified in Ainsworth et al (1978 as cited in: Wood et al, 2007, pp. 30-31) ???strange situation??? experiment which separated (left with strangers) and reunited (with primary caregiver) infants. The attachment theory considers the attachment types mentioned show the primary operating methods of a childs IWM (Wood et al, 2007, p. 31) through which the perceptions and behavior in later horizontal relationships are actively guided.

Furthering the work done by Ainsworth, Hazan and Shaver (1987 as cited in Wood et al, 2007, pp. 23-24), did research applying the three attachment types to adult-adult sexual/romantic relationships via a ???love quiz??™ self-reporting measure. The results from their study of over 1200 replies to the question of the relationship between childhood attachment to parents and adult attachment patterns was very similar to the findings of Ainsworth et al (ibid) with 12-18-month-olds.

Through analysis of various semi structured interviews, Main and Goldwyn (1984 as cited in: Wood et al, 2007, pp. 26-27) came up with earned security (a type of autonomous adult attachment), which shows that, while Hazan and Shavers work is important and demonstrates continuity, adult relationships (e.g. strong and positive marital relationships) (Rutter, Quinton & Hill 1990 as cited in Wood et al, 2007, p. 27) can revise the IWMs of the self and others. This contrasts with Bowlbys claim that an individuals IWM is normally resistant to change (1969/82 as cited in: Wood et al, 2007, pp. 28-29).

Adult attachment interviews (AAI) are commonly used to measure the attachment of adults to their own parents and how they perceive the influence these attachments have on latter relationships. This research aimed to give further insight into this subject, using thematic analysis of a video recording and related transcript of a semi-structured AAI, to explore insider feedback from the participant. Due to the existing the many different perspectives of the attachment theory on the importance of childhood relationships to adult relationships, the study was done within the meanings of the research question.

Method

This qualitative textual analysis was carried out by a student of psychology of The Open University on pre-existing material( a pre-recorded semi-structured adult attachment interview)( The Open University, 2007) and a transcript thereof provided by The Open University (see Appendix 1), using a thematic analysis. Each line on the transcript has been numbered in sequential order from beginning to end (see Appendix 1). This method was chosen as the preferred data collection method because it allows for an ???insider viewpoint??? by the participant. Additional notes (see Appendix 2) were made by the researcher about the participant during the data familiarization process.

The participant, Assan (not his real name) was a 35 year old man from Yemen who grew up in the Middle East, (provided by The Open University) gave his consent for the material to be used for research and was fully briefed prior to the interview with the option to withdraw at any given time. The participant signed the consent form after being debriefed at the end of the interview. To ensure the anonymity and confidentiality of the actual participant, an actor was used in the published video reconstruction of extracts of the original interview.

Analysis

On viewing the video and reading the transcript, both several times, and keeping the research question on how adults perceive that significant others in their lives have affected their development in mind, three main themes were identified.

(i)Main childhood influence

Assans childhood, influenced by society, shows, through repeated mention, a clear picture of male figures playing the main roles in his life starting with his father.

..a father is a very important figure, is head of the household,.. [Lines 15-16]

… but you know, as a man growing up in Yemen where I was born, the father would be the first person that you would seek guidance from, he??™d be your spiritual leader, everything, is very important… [Lines 17-20]

The inequality in the influence his parents is seen in his very short mention of his mother and that her importance underplayed, other than being a homemaker.

…but within the house itself, you know, the mother is the dominant person… [Lines 16-17]

His fathers very strong influence in shaping his personality can be clearly seen as well as a hesitation about discussing his fathers absence.

…father who was open minded, allowed us to question and encourage us to question. I really valued that and enjoyed that relationship with him when he was still… [Lines 38-31]

??¦ And because of how I was brought up to ask people questions to get to understand
them,.. [Lines 73-74]

And maybe even influenced his career choice.

So this has helped me within my job as well because I??™m a journalist …even within my
job you have to be a person who is open, ask questions, be inquisitive and to gain
people??™s trust to make them open. [Lines 81-85]

As much as he idolizes his father, the latters absence has also affected his choices in not
having children as yet, in that he repeatedly states that he wants to be there for them.

I want to be a father who, who is there and supportive of my children and to give as
much as like my father give, even though my father not there long time… [Lines 117-120]

(ii)Transference

Due to the constant absence of his main permanent figure, his father, he quickly shifts focus to his brother.

My brother was the eldest. He was a ??¦ in some respects similar to father figure in that he was quite a bit older than me, but he was someone who I looked up to because my father was sometime not there all the time.. [Lines 47-50]

Assan seems to idealize dominant males and needs their acceptance and support.

But also I felt he was very supportive of me. I think he felt I was the youngest, he had to protect me, look after me. [Lines 53-55]

His need for a father figure follows in adult life where his boss is then his replacement of a father figure which can be seen when he talks about the boss in length
.
Someone who I, who I quite look up to at present I would say is my boss, and he??™s someone who has encouraged me a lot .. [Lines 126-128]

The effect of a lack of strong female influence in childhood can be seen in his lack of intimacy in reference to his wife as lady and the stressing of the word close.

Yes, I am married to a lady called Alya. We are very close. [Line 107]

(iii)Sense of self

Assan did not have a rooted childhood, which indirectly started his low concept of self and not establishing a strong self identity.

..we never stayed in one place for very long. [Lin 22]

The need to adapt to each new environment to fit in furthered his inability to create a strong sense of self.

I asked questions very fast, you know, how, where are you from, what??™s your
background and why, why is it like this So people could relate to me quickly, even
though at first they might say who this is new person, we don??™t trust. [Lines 74-78]

His boss recognizes his rather superficial understanding of people and inability to get an in depth picture.

..but to go further, to really get under and understand,.. [Line 130]

Assan is aware of his lack of individuality and sense of self as well as his inability to understand or strike up deep relationships with others.

Sometimes I feel really, with regards to myself, because I move around so much, I feel who is, where am I really from, what is my own, own background, where is home for me [Lines 98-100]

So I sometimes feel sometimes maybe I ??¦ do I understand them, I question myself, do I really understand [Lines 101-102]

The interview has made him look deeper into his psyche for the first time
..spoken to you, with I suppose things I never think about before. And I think I have more understanding of my own self. [Lines 144-146]

Discussion

The aim of this study was to estimate how adults perceive that significant others in their lives have affected their development. The fact that Assan comes from Yemen plays a large role in understanding his views and the predominance of male influences played in his life. It is obvious that coming from such a male dominated society, due to religion and the society, the significance of women in his life seems to be rather small.

Main and Goldwyn (1984 as cited in: Wood et al, 2007, pp. 26-27) argued that an individual can, in contrast to the claim of change resistance by the IWM (Bowlby, 1969/82 as cited in: Wood et al, 2007, pp. 28-29), transform their IWM. This is debuted by this interview in that Assans marriage does not seem to have been able to change the dominating influence played by his father which left not much room for the mother (the female). His marriage seems from the lack of discussion on Assans part to be of little importance in comparison to the amount he had to say about his boss and his job.

The comments by Assan that he does not want children till he knows he can be around for them, something he lacked in his childhood, shows that he is trying to change and so alter his IWM, to provide a present and stable father figure for his own children. This is borne out in Bowlbys theory, which acknowledged that attachment behaviors could be regarded as changing and fluid.

Assans childhood relationship to his main influence, his father, can be positioned within the secure attachment style identified by Ainsworth et al (1978 as cited in: Wood et al, 2007, pp. 30-31) while studying attachment patterns of infants. Hazan and Shaver (1987 as cited in Wood et al, 2007, pp. 23-24) found by means of their ???love quiz??™ studies, that individuals tend to carry this forward into their adult-adult relationships later in life. The adult relationships of Assan agrees to this finding in that he tries to find the same security in his relationship with his boss as he had with his earlier childhood male figures.

If I were to redo the study I would have asked more about his mother, wife and other females to gain more insight into his relationships and their roles with them.

In conclusion, it can be seen that childhood attachments have an influence on the development and latter relationships of Assan, mainly in his male and female relationships. This seems to give emphasis to the research question asking if adults do perceive that the significant others, in this case the father and brother of Assan; have an influence on their development. Assan illustrates how vertical relationships in his childhood had telling effects on his own psychological well-being and internal working model. Having said that, he also underlines the theoretical understanding by attachment theorists that this is not a fixed but a changeable process

Reflexive analysis

I found the analysis of the video and transcript challenging as I was not the interviewer and found the analysis of secondary material constraining. Had I been the interviewer, my questions would have delved into the female influences in his life to get a better balanced picture.
My own childhood experiences, growing up in an Asian society, had me seeing similarities between us in Assans narrative, while doing the initial data familiarization and the categorization of items. Although there were differences, as my bond with my mother was a strong one, I could relate to the role of a father as the dominant person in life. This might have caused me to be biased in the identification of certain themes and patterns of meaning extracted.
I noticed a lack of emotional expressions (i.e. body language, voice bending) which could be because it was a reconstruction and the actor not being able to portray the real participant., or because as a female I wanted to see more than admiration and respect coming through as I found a lack of warmth and love in his description of his family. This observation may also be because I was unfamiliar with the participant and if I had had a chance to get to know him better, I would have been able to read more into his subtleties and other patterns of meanings expressed by Assan.
I did ensure, as much as possible, (knowing that the researchers bias does play a role in qualitative analysis) to focus on the research question, epistemology and ontology as well as the theoretical framework covering the research. Lastly I acknowledge that my own inexperience in this area may have contributed to the final data analysis presented.

Word count: 2495

References
Bretherton, I. (1997) ???Bowlby??™s legacy to developmental psychology???, in Wood, C., Littleton, K., & Oates J. (2007) pp. 343-346)
Kretchmar M.D., Worsham N.L., Swenson N. (2005) ???Anna??™s story: A qualitative analysis of an at-risk mother??™s experience in an attachment-based foster care program???, in Wood, C., Littleton, K., & Oates J. (2007) pp. 347-351)
The Open University. (2007). Interviewing and thematic analysis [DVD Programme 4, Sections 4-7, DVD 00225]. Milton Keynes: The Open University)
The Open University. (2007). DSE212 Exploring Psychological Research Methods. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Wood, C., Littleton, K., & Oates J. (2007). Lifespan development. In T. Cooper, & I. Roth (Eds.), DSE212: Challenging Psychological Issues (pp. 3-70). Milton Keynes: The Open University

Appendices
Appendix 1
Annotated transcript of interview with ???Assan???

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