Attachment in infancy is classified intothree main styles; secure, insecure resistant and insecure avoidant. Thesetypes of attachment can be defined by specific patterns of behaviour that MaryAinsworth recorded during the Strange Situation. Carol Garhart Mooney (2010)describes the Strange Situation as ‘a twenty-minute observation of infant playin an unfamiliar room while both familiar and unfamiliar adults enter and leavethe room.’ (p 30-31). Ainsworth is the psychologist and researcher responsiblefor both the Strange Situation experiment and the classification of types ofattachment that are so widely used in research into infant attachment.
The term’developmental outcomes’ can be defined in a very broad manner, however for thepurpose of this essay they will be defined through three categories; cognitive,social and biological. Attachment, particularly in infancy, is a widely studiedtopic meaning there is a substantial amount of research, most of which concludesthat there is a strong link between attachment in infancy and laterdevelopmental outcomes for children. Due to the importance placed on academiain the western world, there is much research into whether attachment style ininfancy affects cognitive development.
Dallaire (2007) reported on the growingnumber of mothers in American prisons. Dallaire took results from Poehlmann (2005a)who found that of the 60 children with incarcerated mothers in her study, 63%did not have a secure attachment to either their current caregiver or to theirmother. Poehlmann (2005b) found that those children with incarcerated mothershad significantly lower Stanford-Binet IQ scores in comparison to the publisheddata for their age groups.
Furthermore, Dallaire informs that in a survey of260 incarcerated mothers, 31% reported that at least one of her children hadbeen held back a grade at school. Poehlmann’s research revealed the highpercentage of children who are insecurely attached when their mothers areincarcerated, allowing the following data to highlight how these insecureattachments are strongly linked to cognitive developmental outcomes as well astheir academic achievement. In a review of the biopsychosocial outcomes of attachmenttype, Ranson and Urichuk (2008) reported on how insecure attachment has beenrelated to aggressive behaviour in infants. Using work by Mosten and Coatsworth(1998); Bassarath (2001); and Snyder (2001), Ranson and Urichuk concluded thatearly aggression may predispose children to future academic failure and schooldropout.
Additionally, Ranson and Urichuk also considered the concept of objectpermanence which is the awareness that an object exists even when it cannot beseen. They concluded from Bell’s (1970) research that infants with secureattachments were more advanced in object permanence than their insecurelyattached counterparts. Consequently, Ranson and Urichuk reported that, based onresearch by Rose et al (1992), higher object permanence in infants may bepredictive of overall intelligence in later childhood, and of specificcognitive abilities including reading at age six. Contrastingly, research by Schiffrin(2014) using self-report measures found no relationship between attachment andgrade point average. However, Schiffrin’s sample was only students which mayindicate why no correlation was found as those who may have struggled withcognitive development due to insecure attachment styles have already beenremoved.
Ultimately, there is clearly a strong link between attachment style ininfancy and cognitive outcomes for children. The ability to socialise well with othersis an important developmental outcome that has been widely researched. Ransonand Urichuk’s (2008) review suggests that securely attached infants have bettersocial development.
Taking results from Waters et al (1979), Fagot (1997) andPastor (1981), Ranson and Urichuk reported that securely attached 18-month oldsshow more effective sharing, increased reciprocity with playmates and aregenerally more cooperative, sociable and engaging when observed again at 24months. Correspondingly, Ranson and Urichuk reviewed how Booth et al (1991)related insecure attachment to the use of aggression and negative affect beforethe age of four. This has been reported, by Mosten and Coatsworth (1998),Bassarath (2001) and Snyder (2001), to predispose an infant to later defiantbehaviour and conduct disorder.
Ranson and Urichuk’s review also considered howsecurely or insecurely attached children are perceived. Collecting informationfrom Bohlin et al (2000) and Cohn (1990), Ranson and Urichuk reported thatwhilst securely attached children are more socially active and popular,insecurely attached children are less liked by their peers and teachers andtend to start more fights amongst their contemporaries. This clearly highlightsthe difference in social development between insecurely and securely attachedchildren. Research by Boldt, Kochanska and Jonas (2017) regarding how infantsrelate to their parents, particularly when following instruction, found thatinfants who had been categorised as insecurely attached were more likely toreject the mother’s prohibition. These infants were also perceived by theirmothers as displaying antisocial conduct problems during preadolescence.Furthermore, Boldt et al highlighted how securely attached infants followedtheir parent’s instruction.
This displays the difference between insecurely andsecurely attached infants when faced with parental prohibition and how thisaffects their ability to socialise appropriately within their family. Schiffrin’s(2014) research into the effect of attachment style and positive affect onlater developmental outcomes found that participants classified as having aninsecure-avoidant attachment withdrew from others and disliked seeking socialsupport. Consequently, Schiffrin concluded that those participants may havefewer opportunities to experience positive affect from social interactionswhich would further inhibit their social development. A review by Branjerdporn,Meredith, Strong and Gareia (2017) concerning the association between maternal-foetalattachment and infant developmental outcomes found that maternal-foetalattachment is significantly correlated with infant temperament outcomes whichoften affects how relaxed or anxious the infant is in social situations. Thereis substantial evidence to conclude that attachment type links strongly tosocial developmental outcomes.
Biological developmental outcomes inassociation to infant attachment type has not been as widely researched. Thismay be due to the extensive range of factors that can cause physical changes. However,there is some research that suggests the two are related.
Lyons-Ruth, Pechtel,Yoon, Anderson and Teicher (2016) considered whether disorganised attachmentstyle in infancy leads to greater amygdala volume in later life. The amygdalais located in the medial temporal lobe and is mainly responsible for emotionprocessing. The researchers found that 67% of their participants wereclassified as having disorganised attachment in infancy and a similarly largeportion had an enlarged amygdala. Lyons-Ruth et al reported that left amygdalaenlargement is associated with withdrawing behaviours from the mother.Furthermore, the increased volume of the left amygdala contributes towardsincreased irritability in the limbic pathways which are involved in emotionalprocessing, survival instincts and memory.
Therefore, it can be concluded thatdisorganised attachment style in infancy links strongly to problematicbiological developmental outcomes. In a study by Branjerdporn, Meredith, Strongand Gareia (2017) concerning the association between maternal-foetal attachmentand infant developmental outcomes, it was suggested that maternal-foetalattachment may be related to infant sleep patterns as well as colic in infants.However, this link was not presented as very strong, perhaps because there aremany factors that could affect sleep patterns and colic in babies. Schiffrin(2014) researched the effect of attachment style and positive affect ondevelopmental outcomes including physiological reactivity. The physical healthof the participants was assessed using a self-report of overall health as wellas by rating the applicability of statements, concerning health and illness, tothemselves. Schiffrin found that people who were classified as having aninsecure avoidant attachment style showed greater physiological reactivity tonegative affect in comparison to participants with secure attachments.
Anexample of this using stress as the negative affect may be suffering fromheadaches. This suggests that an insecure attachment style can affect thebiological outcomes of a person, particularly the way in which negative affectmay alter their physical health. This research shows that the link betweeninfant attachment style and later biological developmental outcomes issubstantial.In conclusion, the research has shown thatthere is a significant link between attachment style in infancy and laterdevelopmental outcomes for children. It is important that this link is used ina positive way by locating and supporting infants who do not have a secureattachment and taking measures to prevent this from affecting their cognitive,social, and biological development. It is necessary to consider that much ofthe research into attachment styles and consequent developmental outcomesrelies on either self-report measures or data collection through a familymember (e.g.
a mother answering a questionnaire about her infant’s behaviour).This can be problematic as it may lead to inaccurate data due to theparticipants being affected by social desirability bias. There are two mainways to overcome this problem.
Firstly, to reassure the participants that allthe data collected will be anonymised. Secondly, to use other methods of datacollection that do not rely on information being provided by the participants.For example, an observation such as the Strange Situation is an effective datacollection method; and is used in much of the research previously discussed. Ofthe three main developmental outcomes discussed, social development is clearlythe most actively linked with attachment style in infants.
Whilst cognitive andbiological development are undeniably influenced by attachment type, it issocial development that relies most heavily on a secure attachment style ininfancy.