Naturalistic Observation

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"A child's future relationships are almost entirely determined by the quality of attachment to the mother." Discuss, referring to relevant empirical evidence.

The primal importance of a child's bond to its mother has always been recognised, and is a topic that has fascinated people for thousands of years. Playwrights from Sophocles to the modern day have explored this, and in more recent times psychologists have devoted much research and conjecture to understanding it. Among psychologists, there is much debate about exactly how important this attachment is, and why.

At the turn of the century, the treatment of new-born babies was regarded as having little significance for later life, as babies were thought to be immune to influence. This idea, like many others prevalent at that time, was attacked by Sigmund Freud. He believed (see Freud, 1933 for a synopsis, but this theory was put forward considerably earlier) that the relationship a child has with its mother is a prototype on which all future relationships are based.

Freud's theory held that the child becomes attached to its mother because she is its source of food, hence she gratifies its most basic needs. Slightly later in childhood, the drive for food is supplemented by another basic drive - the need for sexual pleasure. According to Freud's theory, the mother, who is already an object of love because of her role in satisfying the first need, becomes an object of desire with whom the child wants to gratify its sexual desire (this is with reference to boys - an equivalent mechanism was proposed for girls, but much criticised, and Freud eventually admitted to not understanding female sexuality). In the normal course of growing up, the child comes to accept that this can not be, and sets out to become an adult, and find another figure with whom to satisfy this need. It follows that if future relationships are a substitute for the mother-child bond, then they will also be modelled on it.

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