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A Study on the Cause and Effects of Attachment

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    The bond between the child and caregiver is inevitably strong and enduring; therefore it is important to understand how/what influences attachment patterns beyond infancy. In lieu of the fact that research is limited, at best, in middle childhood and that assessments rely heavily on adapted versions of adolescent/adult measures and reports by caregivers, the advancement of research is imperative. In today’s society, the ever-changing dynamics of the family and the role of parents in their child’s lives have become skewed. More mothers are entering the workforce and leaving their children at daycares. More families are headed by a single parent and divorce rates are sky-high. If the attachment is an ongoing developmental process, how will these factors affect the security of the child’s attachment? Understanding attachment as a developmental theory means first and foremost that we must understand what affects attachment. Taking that knowledge into consideration, further research should focus on the retroactive and consequential factors we use to create and maintain our attachment patterns in order to develop successful treatment plans and interventions.

    Review of Related Literature

    Definition of Attachment

    Attachment can be referenced under many theories and generalized across several disorders. Each perspective is subjective to its counterpart wherein attachment is a developmental process with lifelong effects. As a rule of thumb, the attachment should be considered as the process of establishing and maintaining an emotional bond. This process is ongoing and progressive. In an evolutionary sense, attachment can be portrayed as our instinctive behaviors necessary for survival, such as hunger, thirst and pain. This widely accepted view of attachment is an etiological approach that recognizes the infant’s emotional needs to the caregiver as evolved responses to promote survival. Furthermore, individuals are preadapted to engage in activities that enhance their attachment relationships, such as smiling, clinging, and proximity seeking. Behavioral and Learning Theories suggest that attachment is goal-centered and reinforcement-based. For example, an infant will cry when they are hungry, which elicits the response in the parent to feed them. Crying is thus reinforced as successful communication of the need for food. Research has also suggested that as cognitive abilities develop so do attachment systems (Dwyer, 2005).

    Effects of Attachment

    As we grow, we also learn how to model attachment based on our environment. Research conducted by Ziv, Oppenheim, & Sagi-Schwartz (2004) found that secure children are better attuned and socially adaptable. Attachment patterns are reciprocal in nature and teach children what to expect and what to give in a relationship. This ongoing relationship pattern also teaches the infant self-reliance, emotional and behavioral regulation, and stress management. Stams, Juffer, & Van Ijzendoorn (2002) hypothesized that “maternal responsiveness, secure attachments and lack of attachment disorganization in early childhood would lead to higher levels of social development, resiliency, optimal ego control, cognitive development and less externalizing and internalizing behaviors throughout life” (Stams, et al., 2002). The impending importance of attachment can be seen in stage theory as well. Erik Erikson emphasized trust versus mistrust in the first of his psychosocial stages of development. According to this perspective, if a child develops mistrust, they are likely to experience guilt in the second stage and inferiority in the next and so on. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, attachment is listed as the third step to achieve during the path to self-actualization. It becomes clear then that the development of attachment has a broad range of effects on individuals. This is not only true in infancy, but also in later years as we begin to grow cognitively, behaviorally and emotionally.

    Research supports that children who are securely attached are more adapt to emotionally regulate and have peer competence. Contreras, Kerns, Weimer, Gentzler, & Tomich, (2000) studied emotion regulation and its effectiveness as an arbitrator between attachment and peer competence in middle childhood. Their findings linked the child’s coping strategies and social competency with attachment. The research indicated that the abilities of securely attached children to emotionally regulate were higher than their non-securely attached counterparts (Contreras, et al. 2000). This research has been further substantiated by the conclusion that children with secure attachments were more sociable at school (Kerns, Tomich, Aspelmeier, & Contreras, 2000).

    Attachment as a Progressive Developmental Process

    Attachment should be viewed as a progressive developmental process and not as a lump sum of experiences that only occur in infancy. It should be noted that there still is a critical time in which one should develop an attachment in order to have optimal development. It is suggested that newborns must form an attachment to a caregiver during a critical period within the first few years of life (Bretherton, 1992). A child’s first attachment will be to their primary caregiver. The attachment will be secure or insecure depending on the line of communication and the reinforcement contingencies. This is the first social relationship in which we engage. This initial attachment has the prospect of setting the tone for all subsequent relationships in life.

    Stages of attachment follow form with most stage theories; i.e., the success or failure of one stage will effect the completion of the next. During the first few months of life, an infant is socially responsive. However, they do not make distinctions among people and can be comforted by most anyone as long as that figure is accessible. The child learns to discriminate between primary caregivers and other individuals during the second stage. As they move into the third stage, the child will begin to show preference and a strong emotional bond with the primary caregiver (Ainsworth, 1969). During this stage, the child will actively seek out the caregiver and become apprehensive around others. This pattern continues throughout the course of early childhood. It is extremely important that this pattern is developed in a healthy manner because once it is established it will have long-lasting effects on how the child reacts to other people and social situations, such as the school setting.

    It is suggested that this early attachment is linked to attachment disorders and psychosocial disorders later in life (Freitag & Belsky, 1996). Insecure attachments formed during this period are the hallmark of common anxiety disorders in children, such as retroactive attachment and separation anxiety. Other residual effects can be seen in symptoms of phobias, conduct disorders and depression. It has been suggested that insecurely attached children are less sociable at later ages and have higher rates of behavioral and conduct disorders (Stams, Juffer, & Van Ijzendoorn, 2002). Attachment styles can affect the child’s ability to emotionally regulate, function in peer groups, develop coping styles and interact socially (social information processing). Behaviors such as warmth, ability to contribute to support systems, social engagement and internalizing/externalizing problems are also linked to attachment styles (Booth, Rubin, & Rose-Krusnor 1998).

    Current Measures of Attachment

    Working under the assumption that the quality of attachment to the primary caregiver has long-ranging connotations, it becomes important to learn how to observe and measure this phenomenon. However, measures of attachment are few and far between. The availability of such assessments is further diminished when addressing the child versus infancy population. Measuring attachment is typically a sub-component of the assessment itself. Some common assessments include: Thematic Apperception Test, Parenting Stress Index, Devereux Early Childhood Assessment, and the Strange Situation Procedure.
    The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is most widely used, researched, and taught projective assessment of attachment. Its supporters claim that it draws on a subject’s unconscious to reveal repressed aspects of personality, motives and needs for achievement, power and intimacy, and problem-solving abilities (Viglione & Rivera, 2003). It is known as the “picture interpretation technique” because it uses a standard series of 31 ambiguous pictures, with which the subject must tell a story. Children are asked to describe what happened before, what is happening now, what the people are feeling and thinking, and what the outcome will look like (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 2007). This projective technique is used to determine the child’s state of mind with respect to attachment (Kerns, et al., 2000).
    The Parenting Stress Index (PSI) only addresses attachment as a subscale; this self-report measure was developed to identify stress levels of parent-child systems. The PSI is primarily used for early identification, assessment of individual diagnosis, pre-post measurements of effectiveness of intervention, and research for studying the effects of stress on parent-child interactions. The PSI potentially identifies the dysfunctional parent-child relationships that would place a child at risk for emotional disturbance (Abidin, 1995).

    The Devereux Early Childhood Assessment is similar to the Parenting Stress Index since attachment is only assessed as a subscale and reported by others. The Devereux is given to parents and teachers in an attempt to identify positive and negative behaviors in children. The goal of the assessment is to catalog the positive behaviors into three areas: Initiative, Self-Control, and Attachment; and classify the negative behaviors into four areas: attention problems, aggression, emotional regulation, and withdrawal/depression. The results can be used to develop treatment plans on the basis of decreasing negative behaviors and increasing likelihood for positive behaviors (LaBuffe & Naglieri, 2003).

    The Strange Situation Test (SST) is used to measure the levels of anxiety/distress an infant displays when left in an unfamiliar situation and is approached by a stranger while not within close proximity to their primary caregiver. More specifically, the child is observed playing for 20 minutes while caregivers and strangers enter and leave the room. The situation can vary in stressfulness and the childs responses are observed. The purpose is to observe the caregiver/child dyad in a realistic reconstruction of the child’s environment to assess the security of the attachment. Typologies are divided into four attachment styles: secure, insecure-resistant/ambivalent, insecure-avoidant, and disorganized attachment (Pasco Fearon, Fonagy, Schuengel, Van IJzendoorn, Bakermans-Kranenburg, Bokhorst, 2006). The ability to classify an attachment style allows for early intervention and treatment. It can also lead to advances in research and aid in understanding the development of future attachments.

    Grounded Theory and Research Questions

    Based on the review of related literature, the following observations can be made:  First, attachment is instinctive and it is needed for survival such as hunger, thirst and pain. Second, good attachment helps children to be more socially adaptable. Third, the effects of attachment extend to later years in an individual’s life. And finally, attachment is a progressive developmental process and not a lump sum of experiences in infancy. Knowing these, this research would aim to answer the following questions:

    1.  How is attachment instinctive and is needed for survival?
    2. What are the signs of a good attachment?
    3. Is there a correlation between good attachment and social adaptability?
    4. How does attachment progress?
    5. What are the effects of attachment or the lack of it in later in life?


    Case Study

    This paper would use a case study approach in order to filter information gathered from primary and secondary data. The advantage of doing this is that case study allows the utilization of different sources of evidence. Thus, the context of this can be seen in real life as there is a clear-cut distinction between phenomenon and context. (Yin 1989)

     A case study will be done on five men and five women who are perceived to have attachment problem and five men and five women who are perceived not to have attachment problem. This would be done by preparing a checklist of characteristics of good attachment and bad attachment which would be presented to thirty (30) randomly selected members of the faculty in nearby public high schools. Each of the thirty (30) members of faculty would look at their checklist and recommend one male and one female student whom the teacher sees as having good attachment and one male and one female student whom the teachers sees having bad attachment. Therefore, it would be essential that before even proceeding to this first selection, the signs of good attachment should already been determined. This can be done through additional literature review.

     The faculty would then fill up a score card for each of these students and evaluate them on areas. For instance, the following questions may be given:

    INSTRUCTION: Please rate the student based on the following scale: A+ = Strongly Agree; A = Agree; D = Disagree; D+ = Strongly Disagree

    The student is very secure.

    [ Rating:       A+        A        D         D+        ]
    The student is self-reliant.

      [ Rating:      A+    A          D        D+        ]

    The student is socially adaptable.

    [ Rating:       A+        A          D          D+        ]
    Then, the all the papers distributed to all the selected faculty would be collected and classified according to gender. Then, the top 5 scorers for men and the top 5 scorers for women would be chosen as subjects for the case of those without attachment problem. Likewise, the bottom 5 scorers for men and bottom 5 scorers for women would also be chosen as subjects for the case of those without attachment.

    Type of Research Methods

    Both qualitative and quantitative methods would be employed in this research. The quantitative method would be for testing theory, establishment of facts, showing relationships, predicting and statistically describing the events while the qualitative method would be for testing theory, describing multiple realities and capturing behaviors which are naturally occurring. This would be done for one to compensate the weakness of the other. After all, the qualitative method is expensive and time-consuming while the qualitative is thorough and subjective

     Even in the selection of who would be considered in the case study is a matter of quantitative research. But the quantitative aspect would not be only confined to that. In an attempt to determine how attachment is linked to survival, the researcher would consider the development of a chicken from the time it is hatched to the time it matures. There would be two groups of in the experiment – the control group and the experimental group.

     A particular hen which has just hatched eggs would be chosen. Half of its chick would be part of the experimental group while the hen and the remaining chicks would be part of the controlled group. Both would be confined to a make-shift but identical garden and would be fed naturally. However, those in the experimental group would be given their food and water conspicuously so as to minimize interaction and thereby not create attachment. Then, the researcher would quantitatively determine when these chicks would die – if ever they would die – and what factors kept them surviving – if ever some of them survived. Now, since such experiment cannot be done on humans, part of the analysis of this experiment would be to suggest the link of the findings to humans.

    Now, for the qualitative aspect, current literature about attachment and survival would also be examined. As much as possible, the theories presented in the different articles would be reviewed to validate the findings in the chicken experiment. In the review, the question, “How is attachment instinctive and is needed for survival?” will be kept in mind.

    Now, McCracken (1996) comments that a case study is quantitative in nature to “isolate and define categories as precisely as possible before the study is undertaken, and then to determine, again with great precision, the relationship between them” (p.16). Therefore, in order to study the subjects for the case study, several questions would already be prepared in advance for them and for their parents regarding their manifestations of the signs of good attachment, and their social skills. Of course, the basic category of the questions asked would be from the usual who, where, how and why. (Yin 1989, 17).

    Sources of Information


    As mentioned, part of this research would be conducting an experiment of chickens. Assuming that attachment is indeed linked to their survival, it would be necessary to find out in the experiment their survival rate given the previously describe conditions of the controlled group. Therefore, critical information such as time of death, life span and immediate causes of death will be recorded and used in the study.


    Because of survey questionnaires, it is now possible to have a greater response rate and also check the suitability of applicants. Moreover, it also helps develop a greater selection of answers needed for the research field. According to Bell (1993), “surveys can provide answers to the question what? where? when and how?” (p.11). Moreover, its purpose is to collect empirical data which would be the basis of findings or, in the words of Priest (1996), it is “based on data obtained from direct, systematic observation rather than specification information.” Therefore since survey answers basic questions, it should be done first before proceeding to a semi-structured interview. The survey would consist of indirect question testing the effects of attachment on the individual. A sample question would be as follows:

    Question: Suppose you working something on your private room when suddenly, a stranger entered your room and said, “Hi.” What would your most probable response be like?

    • I would also say “Hi!” and be very hospitable to him.
    • I would ask who he is.
    • I would pretend as if he does not exist.
    • I would get a gun and shoot him.

    The theory being tested here is the one presented by Ziv, Oppenheim and Sagi-Schwarz (2004) about the relationship of attachment and security. Similar approach can be undertaken in formulating questions.

    The survey would be administered on all the sixty (60) students selected by the thirty (30) faculty members. By virtue of this survey, it is hoped that conclusions can be made regarding the effects of attachment.

    Also included in the survey are open-ended questions which aim to probe their thoughts and let them share their experiences. After all, these thought and experiences may prove to be useful in finding the roots of the effects – good or bad – manifested in these senior high school students. There would also be multiple-type of questions which would help the researcher categorize the answers of the respondents. Questions would include, but would not be limited to, the following:

    1. Who raised you?
    2. [ ] Mother     [ ] Father   [ ] Others:Please specify: ______________
      What was your earliest memory of the person who raised you?
    3. What is the status of your parents?
    4. [ ] Living together [ ] Separated [ ] Divorced If your parents were separated or divorced,
    5. When did this happen?
    6. How did you react to their separation or divorce?
    7. Do you think this had an effect on you? [ ] Yes  [ ] No
    8. If you answered yes, in what way?  ______________
    9. On a scale of 1 to 4 with 1 being very sociable and 4 being not sociable, what would you rate yourself in terms of your social skills.      [ 1        2          3          4 ]
    10. Do you find easy to trust people?       [ ] Yes  [ ] No
    11. If yes, please tell us why. _______________
    12. Do you talk you could talk to the person who raised you up freely?     [ ] Yes  [ ] No.
    13. If yes, please describe how the two of you make a conversation. If not, please tell us why. ______________

    Semi-structured Interview

     By employing a semi-structured interview, the interviewee would be able to express his/her thoughts more easily and with fluidity. However, the researcher should be careful that the administration of the defined set of questions is consistent to all respondents. In a way, this can be viewed as a conversation that has been directed so that information would be gathered. (Frey 1995)

     After the survey, the top 5 and bottom 5 in the faculty rating (i.e., the subjects for the case study) will be interviewed to clarify their answers. Moreover, the person who raised them up will also be interviewed to have a glimpse of their perspective. All interviews will be recorded. One advantage of this type of approach is that there would be a magnanimous amount of materials for research which could be generated by fully transcribing the dialogue. (Deacon 1999) Another benefit of doing this is that there can be immediate follow-up questions if needed – an option which cannot be utilized when using a questionnaire. In essence, the structured interview compliments for the weakness of the survey. However, there are two things the author must guard when employing this methodology: One is that time considerations should be a high priority since simple mapping of different themes re-emerging from the transcribed interview would be eat up a lot of time. (Deacon 1999) Second, personal bias can easily be carried in replies, making the questions dependent of the individuals.

    Problems and Limitations

    Primary and secondary sources would both have inherent problems which have to be addressed in this paper. Secondary sources, when taken from the World Wide Web may not always be reliable in the sense that the proliferation of digital technology has produced books lacking in-depth and details. Therefore, the researcher must be very careful with obtaining sources from the website. Furthermore, a significant amount of time can be wasted in surfing different websites so time should again be factored in the planning.

     As for primary research, too many questions asked could result in low response rate, especially if they require in-depth answers. Furthermore, the nature of their roles as a student may not give them enough time to answer thoroughly all the questions in the survey. Therefore, the survey would be designed in such a way that it is comprehensive enough to gather the required information but short enough so as it can easily be finished.

    Reliability, Validity and Ethics

    In order to have accurate findings, the integrity of the research project must be maintained. Therefore, all ideas used in this research which is not the researcher’s own would be properly acknowledged and entered in a scholarly manner in the Bibliography. Moreover, all information received by respondents will be treated with utmost confidentiality and will be used only for the purpose of this research.

    Validity, according to Priest (1996), means that what the researcher thought is being measured is actually measured. Therefore, before using a questionnaire in either the survey or structured interview, it shall be first scrutinized through peer evaluation.

    Reliability, on the other hand, means that similar results are obtained by repeating a particular experiment. Therefore, in order to make sure that there is a high reliability, there would be multiple set-ups for the chicken experiments. Also, as discussed earlier, there would be sixty (60) respondents – or double the minimum required for any social science survey. In that way, conclusions would be more reliable since it has a greater basis.

    Summary of Methodology

    The table below summarizes the methodology for this research:

    Question Hypothesis Methods
    How is attachment instinctive and is needed for survival? Attachment is instinctive but is not needed for survival.
    Chicken Experiment; Review of Related Literature
    What are the signs of a good attachment? Good attachment results to good social skills and personal security.
    Faculty Checklist; Survey; Review of Related Literature
    Is there a correlation between good attachment and social adaptability There is a correlation between good attachment and social adaptability. Survey
    How does attachment progress? Attachment is initiated in infancy but continues to develop until maturity
    Chicken Experiment; Survey; Structured  Interview; Review of Related Literature
    What are the effects of attachment or the lack of it in later in life? Good attachment accords many benefits to individuals but bad attachment causes a lot of disabilities to individuals.
    Chicken Experiment; Survey; Structured  Interview; Review of Related Literature

    Further review of related literature

    Structuring the checklist for faculty

    • Selecting the thirty (30) faculty members to take part in the research
    • Administering the faculty checklist
    • Determining the (10) students for case study
    • Setting up the chicken experiment
    • Executing the chicken experiment
    • Getting data for the chicken experiment
    • Administering the survey to sixty (60) students
    • Recording the responses to the survey of sixty (60) students
    • Administering the structured interview to the ten (10) students
    • Administering the structured interview to ones who raised up the ten (10) students
    • Data processing and analysis
    • Preparation of the report


    The proposal has put forth a definition of attachment. Generally, it has been described as a developmental process with life long impact, and is continuous and progressive. Its effects are attested to by the research findings of Stams et al (2002) who assert that secure maternal attachment causes more effective “social development, resiliency, optimal ego control, cognitive development and less externalizing and internalizing behaviors throughout life” (Stams, et al., 2002). He likewise learns trust in accordance to Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development. Various empirical researches on the positive effects of maternal attachment were likewise tackled. The measures of attachment include the  Thematic Apperception Test, Parenting Stress Index, Devereux Early Childhood Assessment, and the Strange Situation Procedure.

    The research proposes to answer the following questions:

    1. How is attachment instinctive and is needed for survival?
    2. What are the signs of a good attachment?
    3. Is there a correlation between good attachment and social adaptability?
    4. How does attachment progress?What are the effects of attachment or the lack of it in later in life?

    Various research methodologies shall be employed to gather pertinent data. For the first question, the hypothesis is that attachment is instinctive but is not needed for survival. Secondary data through a review of related literature shall be carried out, along with the chicken experiment. For the second question above on the signs of good attachment, the hypothesis is that good maternal attachment results to good social skills and personal security. The methodologies for answering this question include a Faculty Checklist, a survey, and secondary data through a review of literature. On the third question on the relationship between good attachment and social adaptability, the methodology is a survey. Finally, on the last question of effects of attachment in later life, the researcher hypothesized that attachment is initiated in infancy but continues to develop until maturity. All the methodologies described thus far (chicken experiment, review of related literature, Faculty Checklist and survey) shall be used to lend credence to this hypothesis.


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