There is no doubt that early experience influences later development. This influence could account for individual differences in many aspects such as cognition, behaviour, social skills, emotional responses and personality. Some developmentalists assert that early experience guarantees long-term developmental outcomes or protects against subsequent trauma (Sroufe and Jacobvitz, 1989). Early experiences, especially emotionally or affectively charged experiences with other humans, induce and organize the patterns of structural growth that result in the expanding functional capacities of a developing individual. Schore (1994) points out that these early experiences shape the development of a unique personality, its adaptive capacities as well as vulnerabilities to and resistances against particular forms of future pathologies.
Research over the course of past 30 years demonstrated that upon birth infants are far more competent, social, responsive and more able to make sense of his or her environment than we ever imagined. The infant is no longer regarded as passive, responding only to stimuli (Fantz, 1963). Detailed studies of the amazing behavioural capacities of the normal neonate have shown that the infant sees, hears and moves in rhythm with his/her mother’s voice in the first minutes and hours of life, resulting in a beautiful linking of the reactions of the two and a synchronized “dance” between the mother and the infant (Klaus and Kennel, 1982). However, it is important to realize that the infant can only be competent in the context of a relationship.
Therefore, an infant is born expecting a competent caregiver to pay attention to and care for him or her. Winnicott (1965), in a beautiful statement puts this in this way: “A baby alone does not exist.” Among the many different relationships individuals form during the life span, the relationship between mother and child is the most important. This relationship will mediate mother-child attachment. Fraiberg (1959) writes: “Our personal identity – the very center of our humanness - is achieved through the early bonds of child and parent. Conscience itself, the most civilizing of all achievements in human evolution, is not part of constitutional endowment, but the endowment of parental love and education”. Attachment theories have made important contributions to the notion of early experience. Attachment theory was developed by British psychologist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby. According to Bowlby (1973, 1980), experience with primary caregivers leads to generalized expectations and beliefs (“working models”) about self, the world, and relationships. He describes these representations as persistent and yet open to revision in light of experience.
Persistent attachment representations allow positive secure base experiences to guide behaviour when someone “stronger and wiser” is not at hand (Bowlby, 1985). The early relationship between caregiver and baby acts as an external system for the child’s internal regulation. Attachment is, in many ways, a measure of self-control. The growing infant who began being totally dependent on mother for soothing, stimulation and emotional regulation, gradually claims the ability to manage alone. In other words: “early development entails the gradual transition from extreme dependence on others to manage the world for us to acquiring the competencies needed to manage the world for oneself ” (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000).
Definitions of Attachment
The notion of attachment has been defined in different ways, but something which is identical in all definitions is that attachment is an essential ingredient for normal human development. Bowlby (1977) defines attachment as an enduring emotional bond which an individual forms to another person. Papalia et al., (1999) define it as a reciprocal, enduring, relationship between infant and caregiver, each of whom contributes to the...