Maternal Deprivation and Attachment Theory
Nothing has been so rewarding as the colossal amount of careful research to which the early work on maternal deprivation has given rise - Maternal Deprivation and Attachment Theory introduction. The literature is now enormous and far beyond the range of an account of this sort to summarize. Fortunately, moreover, it is needless since a broad and critical review of the field has been published by Rutter ( 1979) who concludes by referring to the ongoing accumulation of evidence showing the significance of deprivation and disadvantage on children’s psychological development’ and stating the view that the original influence ‘have been adequately confirmed’. A principal finding of current work is the degree to which two or more adverse experiences interrelate so that the risk of a psychological commotion following is multiplied, often many times over. An instance of this interactive result of adverse experiences is seen in the findings of Brown and Harris (1978) resultant from their studies of depressive disorders in women.
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Not only is there this strongly interactive effect of unpleasant experiences but there is an increased likelihood for someone who has had one adverse experience to have another. For instance, ‘people brought up in discontented or disturbed homes are more likely to have illicit children, to become teenage mothers, to make unhappy marriages, and to divorce’ (Rutter 1979). Thus unfavorable childhood experiences have effects of at least two kinds. First they make the individual more susceptible to later unfavorable experiences. Secondly they make it more expected that he or she will meet with further such experiences. Whereas the earlier unfavorable experiences are expected to be wholly independent of the agency of the individual concerned, the later ones are expected to be the consequences of his or her own actions, actions that spring from that instability of personality to which the earlier experiences have given rise.
Of the many types of psychological disturbance that are perceptible, at least in part, to one or another pattern of maternal deprivation, the consequences on parental behavior and thereby on the next generation are potentially the most staid. Thus a mother who, due to adverse experiences throughout childhood, grows up to be apprehensively attached is prone to seek care from her own child and thus lead the child to become anxious, guilty, and perhaps disturbed. A mother who as a child suffered neglect and frequent severe threats of being neglected or beaten is more prone than others to abuse her child physically (DeLozier 1982), resultant in the adverse effects on the child’s developing personality recorded, among others, by George and Main (1979). Methodical research into the effects of childhood experiences on the way mothers and fathers treat their children has only just begun and seems expected to be one of the most fruitful of all fields for further research. Other research leads are described in a seminar edited by Parkes and Stevenson-Hinde (1982).
As an individual grows older his life persists to be organized in the same kind of way, though his digressions become gradually longer both in time and space. On entering school they will last for hours and later for days. Throughout adolescence they may last for weeks or months, and new attachment figures are expected to be sought. All through adult life the accessibility of a receptive attachment figure remains the source of a person’s feeling secure. All of us, from the cradle to the grave, are happiest while life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the protected base provided by our attachment figure(s).
In terms of the theoretical model proposed, the marked changes in the organization of attachment behavior that take place during individual development are considering as being due, in part, to the threshold for its commencement being raised (conceivably through changes in endocrine levels) and, partly, to the control systems becoming ever more sophisticated, in particular by their coming to integrate representational models of the environment and significant people in it and also of the self as a living active person.
“The development during ontogeny of a set of systems of the kind described in humans, as well as in individuals of many other species, is attributed to the action of natural selection, namely to individuals well endowed with the potential to develop such systems having survived and bred more successfully than those less well endowed, in other words to Darwinian evolution. Since a disposition to show attachment behavior in certain circumstances is regarded as an intrinsic part of human nature, reference to it as ‘dependency’ is not only misleading but seriously inappropriate because of the word’s pejorative overtones” (Bowlby, J. 19841:7-21).
Thus, attachment theory has proved to be a main player in helping researchers to recognize how the quality of early and ongoing close relationships affects children’s emotional development, interpersonal style and social behavior. Developmental attachment theory has particular value for social workers. It pact with the very things that social workers are asked to undertake and can do something about — parent-child relationships, the excellence of care giving and who is best placed to give it, and the needs of children and their development and wellbeing within the setting of the family.
Attachment behavior brings infants into close propinquity to their main carers. It is within these close relations that children learn about themselves, other people and social life generally. Young children interrelate with their parents and other family members and, in so doing, develop an understanding of both themselves and other people. As Trevarthen (1987) puts it, young brains are intended to learn from older brains. According to Grossmann (1995: 92-3), ‘Viewed properly, attachment is the very groundwork for a child’s competence to understand and participate in the broad social and cultural world without undue emotional conflict.’
John Bowlby’s genius was to take together a range of scientific disciplines and philosophical outlooks to puzzle over children’s development from biological creatures into classy social and cultural beings. Out of this inspiring blend of psychology and ethology, evolutionary theory and biology, systems thinking and cognitive science, the personal and the interpersonal, appeared the concept of attachment, which in the hands of contemporary theorists is more than just another approach to children’s socio-emotional development: it is the theory that considers and integrates all others. It is a relationship-based theory of personality development and our psychosocial development through life.
It is within their attachment relations that babies first learn to organize their expression of emotion and behavior (Grossmann 1995: 112). Later on, the understanding and display of emotions starts to take note of other people’s affective states and the social framework in which interpersonal life takes place. The appreciation by the individual that social life entails a constant interplay between self reflexive minds possessed of their own feelings, motivations, thoughts, beliefs and intentions is an inner feature of attachment theory. ‘Attachment is not one association among others,’ states Grossmann (1995: 115), ‘it is the very basis of healthy individual development.’
Attachment theory regards the inclination to make intimate emotional bonds to particular individuals as an essential component of human nature, already present in germinal form in the neonate and ongoing through adult life into old age. Throughout infancy and childhood bonds are with parents (or parent substitutes) that are seemed for protection, soothe, and support. Throughout healthy adolescence and adult life these bonds keep on, but are set off by new bonds, usually of a heterosexual nature. Though food and sex sometimes play significant roles in attachment relationships, the correlation exists in its own right and has a key survival role of its own, namely protection. Originally the only means of communication between infant and mother is through arousing expression and its accompanying behavior. Though supplemented later by speech, psychologically mediated communication nevertheless persists as a principal feature of close relationships all through life.
Within the attachment framework therefore close emotional bonds are seen as neither subsidiary to nor derivative from food and sex. Nor is the imperative desire for comfort and support in adversity viewed as childish, as dependency theory implies. Instead the capacity to make close emotional bonds with other individuals, at times in the care seeking role and sometimes in the care giving one, is considered as a principal feature of valuable personality functioning and mental health.
As a rule care seeking is shown by a weaker and less knowledgeable individual towards someone considered as stronger and/or wiser. A child, or older person in the care seeking role, keeps within range of the caregiver, the extent of closeness or of ready openness depending on circumstances: hence the notion of attachment behavior.
Care giving, the main role of parents and balancing to attachment behavior, is regarded in the same light as care seeking, namely as a basic constituent of human nature.
Exploring the environment, together with play and varied activities with peers, is seen as a third basic constituent and one antithetic to attachment behavior. While an individual (of any age) is feeling secure he is probable to investigate away from his attachment figure. While alarmed, anxious, tired, or ailing he feels an urge towards proximity. Thus we see the archetypal pattern of inter action between child and parent known as investigation from a secure base, first described by Ainsworth (1967). Provided the parent is known to be available and will be receptive when called upon, a healthy child feels confined enough to explore. At first these explorations are limited both in time and space. Around the middle of the third year, though, a secure child begins to become confident enough to rise time and distance away — first to half-days and later to entire days. As he grows into adolescence, his expeditions are extended to weeks or months, but a secure home base remains essential nonetheless for optimal functioning and mental health. Note that the idea of secure base is a mid feature of the theory of psychotherapy proposed.
throughout the early months of life an infant shows several of the component responses of what will later turn into attachment behavior, but the organized pattern does not develop until the next half of the first year. From birth onwards he shows a germinal competence to engage in social relations and pleasure in doing so (Stern 1985): thus there is no autistic or egotistic phase. Within days, additionally, he is able to differentiate between his mother-figure and others by means of her smell and by hearing her voice, and also by the way she holds him. Visual favoritism is not consistent until the second quarter. Primarily crying is the only means accessible to him for signaling his need for care, and satisfaction the only means for signaling that he has been satisfied. Throughout the second month, however, his social smile acts stoutly to encourage his mother in her ministrations and his range of emotional communications rapidly extends ( Izard 1982; Emde 1983).
The development of attachment behavior as an organized system, having as its goal the keeping of closeness or of convenience to a discriminated mother-figure, requires that the child must have developed the cognitive capability to keep his mother in mind while she is not present: this capability develops throughout the second six months of life. Thus from nine months onwards the great majority of infants react to being left with a strange person by protest and crying, and as well by more or less prolonged fretting and refusal of the stranger. These observations reveal that during these months an infant is becoming competent of representation and that his working model of his mother is becoming accessible to him for purposes of comparison throughout her absence and for recognition after her return. Complementary to his model of his mother, he develops a working model of himself in relations with her; likewise for father.
White (1989) determined that adulthood residuals of early attachment feelings -that is, concern regarding losing the respect of family members — were more significant than fear of criminal sanctions in the respectable behavior of a large group of non-criminals.
Besides problems with the dependability and legitimacy of current measures of infant attachment, this approach suffers from a subsequent potential limitation — that is, the relationship between attachment and social behavior can be overvalued because of the use of norm (“strange situation”) and reliant (mother’s rating of a child’s social competence) measures that overlap considerably. A difficulty met in research probing attachment styles in adults is that avoidant adults and college students lean to idealize their early relationships as a way of evading expressions of negative affect or feelings of personal discomfort ( Kobak & Sceery, 1988; Main et al., 1985). Hazan and Shaver (1987) add that only with maturity do many of these individuals begin recognizing the negative aspects of their early interpersonal experiences. This drift appears to be particularly challenging in studies of criminal offenders who, as a group, lean to be rather immature in their dealings with others ( Yochelson & Samenow, 1976).
Though considering the person-variable side of the main level-social domain interactive equation, with its genetic, prenatal, and neonatal correlatives, seemed to fit into the equation. Legitimate difficulties ( Connell, 1976), infant fearfulness ( Goldsmith, Bradshaw, & RieserDanner, 1986), persistent crying ( Thompson, 1986), low birth weight ( Bell, 1979), and maternal alcohol abuse throughout pregnancy ( O’Conner, Sigman, & Brill, 1987) have all been shown to unfavorably affect the eventual attachment behavior of infants. Budding intelligence or responsiveness may also enter into the equation by caring a child fortunate enough to possess this uniqueness against future criminal involvement.
It is clear, then, that person variables can impact on attachment by making it hard for the mother to experience an optimistic relationship with her child, while depriving the infant of opportunities to view the mother as a safe base from whence he or she might explore their environment. Traditional theories have leaned to downplay the significance of disposition and other person variables in the progress of a child-parent bond, although a recent meta-analysis of the attachment literature hints that temperament is at least as strongly linked with indices of attachment as are a diversity of maternal attributes (Goldsmith & Alansky, 1987)
The situational side of primary-level relations in the social domain embodies several diverse variables. Mothers who are more loving ( Bates, Maslin, & Frankel, 1985), accepting ( Main, Tomasini, & Tolan, 1979), responsive ( Blehar, Lieberman, & Ainsworth, 1977), and positive (Roggman, Langlois, & Hubbs-Tait, 1987) raise children who tend to be more steadily attached than mothers who lack this uniqueness. Probing this issue further, Londerville and Main (1981) determined that mothers who employed warmer tones and were less influential in interacting with their children seemed to produce more firmly attached offspring. On the other hand, children interpreted to physical abuse and maltreatment have been shown to be uncertainly attached to their primary caregiver, even after allowances are made for preliminary differences in socioeconomic status ( Egeland & Sroufe, 1981; Schneider-Rosen & Cicchetti, 1984).
So that we do not over interpret the potential applicability of attachment research to a science of criminal behavior, it is significant to add that not all of the research outcomes have been positive. Hazan and Shaver (1987) note that parental divorce and absence were discrete to attachment style in two large samples of adult respondents. Rutter ( 1972), on the other hand, reports that parental absence and attachment can interact in their effect on behavior. Thus, as losing a mother or father may form anxiety in a well-bonded child, such a loss tends to be convoyed by uninhibited, attention-seeking behavior in children who have not formed a strong connection to their parents. In a meta-analysis of research on maternal characteristics and attachment, Goldsmith and Alansky (1987) found maternal characteristics to be much less prognostic of infant and child attachment than has been usually posited by proponents of attachment theory.
One possible understanding of the ambiguous effects recorded by investigators searching the person and situational associates of attachment is that the interaction of person and situational variables is more significant than individual person and situation variables in defining attachment. Sroufe (1979) writes that attachment has its roots in infancy and is the consequence of an interaction between the child and his or her caregiver. Worded somewhat in a different way, the child is an active accomplice in his or her own experience. Hazan and Shaver (1987, p. 522) add that “we have overstated the degree to which attachment style and attachment associated feelings are traits rather than products of unique person-situation connections.” Hence, as the actual combination of person and situation factors causative to the interaction of variables at the primary level of social interaction can be unique to the individual, the ultimate product (attachment style) is a more widespread phenomenon that deserves our persistent research focus.
In one of the founding studies on early attachment and behavior, Pringle and Bossio (1960) established that the better adjusted residents of an orphanage were more expected to have spent the first year of life with their mothers, thus having recognized the seeds of a developing bond with a primary caregiver. Research constantly demonstrates that securely attached infants tend to grow to be more inquiring ( Arend, Gove, & Sroufe, 1979), self-reliant ( Sroufe, Fox, & Pancake, 1983), socially competent ( LaFreniere & Sroufe, 1985), and cooperative (Bates, Maslin, & Frankel, 1985; Matas, Arend, & Sroufe, 1978) children than less firmly attached infants.
Securely attached infants also build up self-recognition skills more quickly than less securely attached infants. Schneider-Rosen and Cicchetti (1984), for example, determined that 73 percent of the 19-month-old infants in their study competent of visual self-recognition had been previously rated as firmly attached. Lewis, Feiring, McGuffog, and Jaskir ( 1984) observed an relations between attachment style and gender that found securely and anxiously attached female children failing to diverge on criteria introduced by Achenbach and Edelbrock ( 1981) to evaluate risk for later psychopathology (15% in each group), but registered a noteworthy effect for males in which 40 percent of the insecure (avoidant, anxious/ambivalent) boys satisfied the Achenbach and Edelbrock criteria compared to 6 percent of the securely attached boys.
Though the preponderance of evidence suggests the presence of a meaningful alliance between attachment style and childhood adjustment, this part of research is not without its detractors. In what is perhaps the most disconfirmatory study on this subject to date, Jacobson, Willie, Tianen, and Aytch ( 1983) determined that differing to predictions resultant from attachment theory, two-year old children assessed to be securely attached to a major caregiver were less rather than more probable to engage in positive interactions with peers compared to avoidant or anxious/ambivalent children. Likewise, Tracy, Farish, and Bretherton ( 1980) witnessed a considerable secure-insecure difference on only one of the 16 measures of investigative competence considered within the perspective of their investigation. Finally, Bates et al. ( 1985) report that early maternal perception, but not diverse attachment variables, linked with preschool behavior problems at 36 months.
Thus, a major facet of attachment theory is the supposition that attachment behavior is planned by means of a control system within the essential nervous system, related to the physiological control systems that sustain physiological measures such as blood pressure and body temperature within set limits. Thus the theory proposes that, in a way similar to physiological homeostasis, the attachment control system maintains a person’s relation to his attachment figure between assured limits of distance and accessibility, using ever more sophisticated methods of communication for doing so (Adler, F., Mueller, G. O. W., & Laufer, W. S. 1998).
As such, the effects of its operation can be regarded as an instance of what can usefully be termed environmental homeostasis ( Bowlby 1969, 1982). By postulating a control system of this sort (with related systems controlling other forms of behavior) attachment theory contains within itself a theory of motivation that can reinstate traditional theories which raise a postulated build-up of energy or drive. Amongst several advantages of control theory are that it gives as much attention to the conditions terminating a behavioral succession as to those initiating it and is proving a productive framework for empirical research.
The presence of an attachment control system and its connection to the working models of self and attachment figures that are built in the mind throughout childhood are held to be central features of personality functioning all through life.
Thus in conclusion I must say that attachment theory is a theory of personality development within close relationships. It is a theory that shows that poor-quality close relationships are where children’s developmental prediction first goes astray. It facilitates us to understand why those who have endured adverse relationships in their past go on to find relationships difficult in the future, relations with parents, peers, partners, children, neighbors and figures in authority. Attachment theory is also adding up to our understanding of how the developmental well-being of children and adults can be recovered within good-quality close relationships. Attachment theory therefore demands that child and family social workers become well-informed and expert in the business of close relationships – between parents and children, children and peers, parents and social workers, children and social workers – and how these relations affect behavior and development.
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