Maternal Attachment

???Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another, across time and space???. (Bowlby 1969 and Ainsworth 1973).

Attachment is an emotional bond to another person. The central theme of the attachment theory is that mothers or other primary caregivers, who are available and responsive to their infants needs, establish a sense of security. The infant then knows that the caregiver is dependable, which in turn creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world. Two researches have done more than anyone else to bring these theories to our attention these are John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.
John Bowlby formulated the basic tenets of the theory. He revolutionized our thinking about a child??™s tie to the mother or caregiver, and its disruption through separation, deprivation and bereavement. Mary Ainsworth???s methodology not only made it possible to test some of Bowlbys ideas, but also helped expand the theory itself. She is also responsible for some of the new directions that are taking place.
Psychologist John Bowlby was one of the first attachment theorists describing, attachment as a ???lasting psychological connectedness between human beings??? (Bowlby 1969). He believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers, have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. It is a test-bed for all the other attachments that he or she will make throughout their lives.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Bowlbys theory is the concept of monotropy he believed that babies are programmed o develop a special attachment with one person and that person is usually the mother or another significant female. This relationship is fundamentally different to any other attachment and forms the basis of future relationships. Although Micheal Rutter (1981) strongly criticised Bowlbys concept of monotropy. He claimed that infants often show multiple attachments and often the primary attachment s to someone other than the mother and this person can be male. Bowlby did however agree that infants can form multiple attachments nevertheless, he was adamant that the most important attachment is the mother. Bowlby also claimed that during the early years while the child acquires the capacity for self-regulation the mother is a child??™s ego and superego he says `It is not surprising that during infancy and early childhood these functions are either not operating at all or are doing so most imperfectly. During this phase of life, the child is therefore dependent on his mother performing them for him. She orients him in space and time, provides his environment, permits the satisfaction of some impulses, restricts others. She is his ego and his super-ego. Gradually he learns these arts himself, and as he does, the skilled parent transfers the roles to him. This is a slow, subtle and continuous process, beginning when he first learns to walk and feed himself, and not ending completely until maturity is reached. . . . Ego and super-ego development are thus inextricably hound up with the child??™s primary human relationships. (Bowlby, 1951,). Bowlby also believed that there are four characteristics of Attachment these are:
Safe haven: When the child feels threatened or afraid he or she can return to the caregiver for comfort and soothing.
Safe haven: The caregiver provides a secure and dependable base for the child to explore the world.
Proximity maintenance: The child strives to stay near the caregiver therefore keeping the child safe.
Separation distress: When separated from the caregiver the child will become upset and distressed.
The emergence of the attachment theory was in 1948, Bowlby hired James Robertson (a boiler man at Anna Freuds Hampstead residential nursery for homeless children) to help him observe hospitalized and institutionalized children who were separated from their parents. Robertson collected notes on cards for two years about the hospitalized children??™s behaviour for Bowlbys research projects. Robertson then felt compelled to do something for the children he had been observing, then on a shoestring budget with a handheld cinecamera and no artificial lighting; he made a film a two year old goes into hospital (Robertson 1953 Robertson and Bowlby 1952). It was carefully planned to ensure that no-one would be able to accuse Robertson of biased recording, this was done by the child being randomly selected and the hospital clock on the wall served as proof that the time sampling took place at regular periods of the day. Together with Spitz`s (1947) film, Grief, a peril in infancy .Robertson`s first film helped improve the fate of hospitalized children all over the western world, as parents are now allowed to stay with their children and no have limited visits. Even though it was highly controversial amongst the medical establishment.
Lorenz, Harlow and Bowlby suggested that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others because this will help them to survive. The infant produces innate `social releaser` behaviours such as crying and smiling that stimulate innate care giving responses from adults. The determinant of attachment is not food but care and responsiveness.
Harlow (1959) found evidence of this using rhesus monkeys. He stated that monkeys (like infants) must form their attachments during the first year of life (critical period). In his experiment `The Nature of love` infant monkeys were being reared with surrogate mothers ??“ either a bare wire mother attached with a feeding bottle or wire mother covered with cloth. The monkeys spent more time with the cloth mother and would only go to the wire monkey when hungry. This supports the theory of attachment in that it is the sensitive response of the caregiver that is important (rather than the provision of food). Harlow??™s work was strongly criticized, as the experiments have limited value in attempting to understand the effects on human infants.
Like all relationships attachment relationships vary. Much research was focused on how forms of attachment differ between infants. For example Schaffer and Emerson (1964) discovered what appeared to be innate differences in sociability in babies: some babies preferred cuddling more than others, from very early on before much interaction had occurred to cause such differences. However it was Mary Ainsworth (1970) who provided the most famous body of research offering explanations of individual differences in attachment. Ainsworth and Bell (1970) investigated this in an experiment called the `Strange Situation` in order to observe the variety of attachment forms between caregivers and infants. The experiment was set up in a small room with one way glass so the behaviour of the infant could be observed. The infants were aged between 12 and 18 months. It was conducted by observing the infant and caregiver in a series of seven, three minute episodes as follows:
1. Parent and infant alone
2. Stranger joins parent an infant
3. Parent leaves infant and stranger alone
4. Parent returns and stranger leaves
5. Parent leaves: infant left completely alone
6. Stranger returns
7. Parent returns and stranger leaves
Their set of observational studies revealed four distinct forms of attachment styles these were:
* Secure attachment: Infants either seek proximity or contact or greet the parent with a smile or wave
* Resistant attachment and Disorganized attachment:
Infants show hostility towards the parent.
* Avoidant attachment: Infants avoid the parent.

Their have been many criticisms about this experiment on the grounds that it identifies only on the type of attachment to the mother, whereas the child may have a different type of attachment to the father or grandparents. It lacks validity as it is not measuring a general attachment style, but instead just the attachment style specific to the mother. Also the child is in a strange and artificial environment and the child may react differently, at a different time. Although the experiment has many criticisms it has proved to become one of the most widely used procedures in development psychology.
The attachment theory has proved invaluable in understanding the relationship between early experience and later development. It has lead to vast improvements in childcare facilities such as nurseries and hospitals, it also helped professionals understand and intervene in families at risk of passing on patterns of abuse and neglect through generations. On the other hand, the attachment theory has been used to discriminate against the working mother using childcare, by attempting to place them ???back in the home???

By Samantha Hansford

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