Research indicates that attachment behaviors formed in infancy help shape the attachment relationships as adults. Essay


     There are numerous studies that claim that attachment relationships are an important determinant of an individual’s social life as an adult - Research indicates that attachment behaviors formed in infancy help shape the attachment relationships as adults. Essay introduction. Although these relation ships are seen more frequently in childhood, it is nevertheless now accepted to be an important part of the adult relationship. Identifying this relationship lays in the many of the studies that correlate strongly the attachment behaviors of an individual at the infant and child state, and later in the adult state. It understands this relationship that many of the behavior patterns can be detected in the earlier stages and adapted to improve the outcomes for such individuals.

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      The role of attachment and its effects on an individual at infancy and adult stage has led to many researches in the area. The bonds between a child and parent are the ultimate determinant of his or her social role pertaining to interacting with other people. This behavior can be best seen in the initial stages within infants themselves. Any perceived separation from the child leads to an instinct to be closer to the parent figure, and the child may display it in the form of crying, clinging etc.(Fraley, 2004) Now these actions demonstrated have been ascertained to be an adaptive response of the child to separation from the parent figure. This attachment behavior system has shown many perceived benefits. Firstly, it has demonstrated that those animals displaying these features and relying on their parents for support are more likely to survive to a reproductive age. Secondly, this system is only seen in those animals which are unable to fend for themselves, the most obvious example being the mammalian classes. This means that this behavior is a method of survival for the infant to adulthood, and in the case of humans, is a very important predictor of the outcomes in social relationships. (Fraley, 2004)

      The ethological theory of attachment is the mirror of above mentioned thoughts, has been adapted by observing the animal behavior patterns. This theory supports the concepts that the relationship between the parent and the infant begins with innate signals. These innate signals later on develop in to positive emotional attachments, which develop in both the parties. This attachment becomes a reference point for the child to base his or her future relationships in childhood and consequently into adulthood as well. Many animal studies are a proof to this. The studies of Harlow regarding the decline in monkey infants not given due attention in orphanages is among the most powerful studies displaying the need for attachment relationships in an infant. (Harlow and Zimmerman, 1959) Cross cultural studies as mentioned later, point to the environmental and social factors that seep into the unconscious of an individual infant, which later on leads to progression of his or her personality development. Seeing such examples, the relation between the need of attachment relations, their role in infancy, and their consequent effect on the adult personality and social behaviors is very easy to fathom.

      The remarkable variation in this behavior seen even in infancy points to the complexity of the human organism and the various factors that contributes in it. Studies carried out under “strange conditions” in the laboratory, have been able to identify three main patterns exhibited by children upon separation from parents. Secure children, become upset and cry when they are separated from their parents, but actively seek and are easily comforted when the parent returns. Anxious resistant children are very distressed upon separation from the parent, and therefore on their return may demonstrate a variety of emotions, but will take a longer time to calm down. Avoidant children are completely different in this regard; such children may actively avoid the parent on their return, diverting their attention to other objects. (Fraley, 2004)This finding was a significant contributor towards the understanding of infant and child emotions, and what shapes them. Overall avoidant and ambivalent children were termed as the “insecure children”, compared to the “secured” children category. (Petters,2005)

       The attachment behavior demonstrates four essential qualities in any relationship, infant or adult. There is proximity maintenance, separation distress, the feeling for safe haven, and the action of secure base for the other person. In a child all these qualities allow him or her to explore the world with out any insecurity. (Collins, 2007)

       The strange conditions or the strange situations experiments are perhaps the most effective way of observing infant and child behaviors. This standardized laboratory procedure makes sure that situations that are similar to life experiences are carried out so that the infant responses obtained are as natural as possible. This entire experiment is carried out through a succession of eight stages. The difference of reaction among the infants is now attributed to the differences in the temperament of the individual child which influences the reactivity. (Petters,2005)

      The many researches carried out have been able to show that there is preference of infant behaviors among different nationalities. For examples, countries like, US, China, West Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Sweden and Japan, all showed that two thirds of their infants fell in the secure or B category, one-fifth displayed avoidant and one-eighth demonstrated the ambivalent categories respectively. This finding raises another interesting question about the prevalence of one type of behavior pattern among “clusters of infant groups and populations” and how are they influenced. (Petters, 2005)

       The current use of software technology to outline the different thought patterns in the children has led to many innovations. These systems are very helpful in recording and analyzing the various temporal and behavioral activities, and thereby will help clarify some of the concepts of infant and consequently adult behavior perceptions. (Petters, 2005)

      The consequences of attachments and their quality can have important bearing on the individual. The positive effects lead to an emotionally healthy individual. The negative implications can however lead to psychiatric disorders. Their capacity to make new relationships is much compromised. (Lee, 2003)


      The association between the behavior patterns of infancy and those of adulthood are not so different for an individual. This theory is now widely accepted, and with it, predictions about the method of approach to social relationships in a child can be easily established. Researchers were able to find some striking correlations seen in children, caregivers, and adult romantic partners, which show the deep relation and association between the infant behavioral patterns to adult. The feeling of safety, intimate bodily contact, sharing discoveries and communication, and playing with facial features along with mutual fascination and preoccupation are amongst the most common signs seen in such people. These features are more strongly seen in adult romantic relationships, and therefore, are now termed as adult attachment relationships. (Fraley, 2004)  Many implications can be drawn from this simple fact. For starters, if the attachment relationship of the adult corresponds to the infant relationship, then success and failure will also be similar to that of an infant-caregiver relationship. Similarly, the kind of behavior towards relationships in an adult may be the reflection of the type of relation the person experienced as a child. (Fraley, 2004)

       Adult attachment patterns however, are classified into two types. Attachment related anxiety and attachment related avoidance show whether the person is secure in the relationship and is he or she is open to intimate experiences. In the case of a secure adult, the person will exhibit a lower score in both dimensions. (Fraley, 2004)

     The various dimensions of these two type patterns further divide adults in to secure adults, preoccupied or anxious-ambivalent, dismissing avoidant adults, and fearful avoidant adults. These patterns of behavior are very closely linked to the patterns of the childhood. The attachment behavior become s more stabilized once the individual reaches adulthood, and it is with the same mechanism that the person continues to carry out his or her relationships. (Collins, 2007)

      The type of attachment behavior in adults can be a very good guide to the happiness quotient of the person. As established by Collins in a previous study in 1990, secure adults are more likely to perform better and be generally happier in their relationships. (Collins, 1990) Interdependence, trust, commitment and positive note on the relationship aspects are the hallmarks of such person’s relationships. Quite the reverse can be seen in anxious and avoidant types of individuals, where there is a lack of individual trust and confidence, and more negative emotions involved. Such persons are more likely to take the effects of breakups or separations more. (Collins, 1990)


      The role of attachment behaviors, although under debate, is still under much investigation and research. Attachment behavior theories have been highly successful in predicting much of the patterns in infants. Now with time, the role of it in adult relationship building is also coming to light. More research is nevertheless needed. But researchers are happy they are now able to answer many of the questions that were too difficult to do so before.


R. Chris Fraley,2004. A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research. University of Illinois. Site last accessed on June 6th, 2007 from

Collins N.L, and Brook C. Feeney, 2007. Attachment-Couple Relationships, Parent-Child Relationships. Marriage and Family Encyclopedia. Website last accessed on June 6th, 2007 from

Collins N.L., and Read, S.J. 1990.Adult Attachment, Working Models, and Relationship Quality in Dating Couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58:644-663

Erin J. Lee, 2003. The Attachment System throughout the Life Course: Review and Criticisms of Attachment Theory.

Harlow, H. F., & Zimmerman, R. (1959). Affectional responses in the infant monkey. Science, 130, 421-432

Dean Petters, 2005. Building Agents to Understand Infant Attachment Behavior, University of Birmingham.

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