Attachment and Separation in Adulthood

Topics: Attachment theory, John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth Pages: 10 (2545 words) Published: July 24, 2005
A qualitative study showing how childhood experiences of attachment and separation can affect relationships in adulthood.


This qualitative research was conducted to ascertain if the attachment style a person has as an adult is created or influenced by his/her interactions with early childhood experiences. The research was carried out by means of a thematic analysis of an interview of a married middle-aged couple. The interviews bought the themes of Work, Childhood and Relationships to the foreground and these were analysed to establish if there is a connection in our childhood attachments and those we make as adults. It can be seen that there are similarities to the attachment types of infants compared to those that emerge as adults although individual differences and life experiences also have a part to play in our capacity to form secure adult attachment relationships.

Andrea K LaitV0049493


The general principle behind attachment theory is to describe and explain people's stable patterns of relationships from birth to death. Because attachment is thought to have an evolutionary basis, these social relationships are formed in order to encourage social and cognitive development, and enable the child to grow up to ‘become socially confident' in adulthood.

The assumption in attachment research on children is that sensitive responses by the parents to the child's needs result in a child who demonstrates secure attachment while lack of sensitive responding results in insecure attachment. John Bowlby who attempted to understand the distress infants experience during separation from their parents originally developed this research. Bowlby saw attachment as being crucial to a child's personality developing and to the development of relationships with others later in life. This theory has its foundation in vertical relationships i.e. Primary Care Giver/Child, while on the other hand in The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris (1999) suggests that it is the peer groups that have the strongest control in shaping how that child will grow up and that parents have very little influence over the matter, this is known as a horizontal relationship.

In developing and classifying infant behaviour Mary Ainsworth who worked with Bowlby for a number of years developed a method of gauging attachment in infants, in an experiment known as the ‘Strange Situation'. This involved observations in laboratory conditions of the behaviour of mother and child in a room when a stranger enters the room; the mother leaves the room, then stranger leaves. The mother then leaves the child alone. After three minutes, the stranger returns, offers comfort and tries to play with the child. Finally the mother returns and the stranger leaves. Trained observers then code the video recording.

Andrea K LaitV0049493

The basic attachment types identified are Type A (Insecure – anxious avoidant)– child does not seek proximity on reunion, rejects mother's attempts to calm or comfort. Type B (Secure) – Proximity on reunion, allows mother to comfort and Type C (insecure – anxious ambivalent) - Shows both avoidant and proximity seeking behaviours – acts inconsistently towards mother. These attachment types then form the model on how a child reacts to others in relationships later on in adulthood. Therefore attachment theory provides not only a framework for understanding emotional reactions in children, but also a framework for understanding commitment, separation, and sadness in adults. Attachment styles in adults are thought to stem directly from the working models (or mental models) of oneself that were developed during infancy and childhood. This report highlights the experiences of a middle aged married couple, and by carrying out a semi-structured interview reveals their experience of attachment and separation that occurred during their childhood. It evaluates their experiences and...

References: Wood C, Littleton K & Oates J, Lifespan development, Chapter 1 in Challenging Psychological Issues by Cooper T and Roth I (eds) The Open University, Milton Keynes, 2002.
Ainsworth, M.S., Blehar, M.C., Waters, E. and Wall, S. (1978) Patters of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation, Hillsdale, NJ, Erlbaum
Goodley D, Lawthom R, Tindall C, Tobbell J, Wetherell M, (eds) (2003) Methods Booklet 4 – Understanding People: Qualitative Methods. Open University Press.
Banister P, (ed) (2003) Methods Booklet 5 – Qualitative Project. Open University Press.
Harris, J.R. (1999) The Nurture Assumption, London Bloomsbury.
Research Methods in Psychology DSE 212 Video 1 –Part 4: Interviewing, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Appendix A - Annotated copy of transcript.
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