Attachment Development and the Influence of Daycare on Attachments

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The development of attachment relationships between children and parents constitutes one of the most important aspects of human social and emotional development. For years, the predominant view of infant-caregiver attachment was that it was a “secondary drive” i.e. that any attachment formed was because of the infant associating the caregiver with providing for physical needs such as hunger. However, John Bowlby argued that attachment is an innate primary drive in the infant. This theory was reinforced by Harlow & Zimmerman’s (1959) experiment involving baby monkeys who had been separated form their mothers and offered two surrogate “mothers”. One of these was made of wire, but had a nipple attached which provided food. The other was made of soft cloth and provided no nutrition. The results showed that the monkeys fed from the “wire mother” but cuddled up to the “soft cloth mother” and ran to “her” when frightened. It therefore seemed reasonable to conclude that the “soft cloth mother” provided “contact comfort” and satisfied a basic or primary need. Regardless however of whether attachment behaviour is instinctual or goal orientated, it results in the infant maintaining proximity to the parent. Bowlby also recognised that the attachment was not purely dependent upon the social and emotional interaction between the infant and caregiver. It is also heavily dependent upon the infant’s cognitive development in terms of being able to represent an object that is not physically present. He based his argument on Piaget’s contention that this level of object permanence is not acquired until the infant is about eight months old. Thus, Bowlby suggested that attachment occurs in stages so as to allow for the needed cognitive development which enables the infant to miss an attachment figure and hence, demonstrate attachment behaviour.

Bowlby claims that during the first phase (0-2 months) infants begin to develop a repertoire of signals, of which the cry is most effective. The infant learns that signals such as crying, have an arousing effect on those who hear them because adults are highly motivated to relieve the cause of a baby’s distress (Frodi, Lamb, Leavitt & Donovan, 1978; Murray 1979). The caregiver will more than likely pick up the infant upon hearing it crying and thus the infant can feel, hear, smell and see the caretakers who are in close proximity. Thus, the infant learns to associate the presence of their caretakers with the relief of distress. Bowlby suggested that this ability to recognise specific individuals marked the transition to the next phase of attachment development but recent studies (Cernoch & Porter, 1985; DeCasper & Fifer, 1980; Macfarlane, 1975, 1977) show that infants are able to recognize their parents much earlier than Bowlby believed. For example, young infants appear to be able to distinguish and prefer their mother’s voice and smell from those of other mothers within the first two weeks of life. The second phase occurs during the 2nd and 7th months. During this period, infants start to prefer interacting with familiar people such as their parents as they start to realise that these people are the ones who cause pleasurable experiences. During this phase, behaviour becomes increasingly coordinated, levels of arousal come to vary less, less distress is experienced, more time is spent in alert states, and interactions with adults increasingly involve play (Emde & Robinson, 1979). It is also during this time that babies learn several highly important things. Firstly, they learn the rule of reciprocity-during social interactions; partners take turns acting and reacting. Secondly, babies learn effectance, realizing that they can affect the behaviour of others in a consistent and predictable fashion. Thirdly, babies learn trust, because their parents can be counted on to respond when signalled. The third phase occurs when the baby is between 7 and 24 months of age. After 7 months, clear attachments...
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