An Argument in Favor of Attachment Theory

Published: 2021-09-22 18:25:10
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Advocates of attachment theory propose that it is our earliest relationships and attachments that have the greatest bearing on our development into adult life. Research suggests that the kind of attachments we experience in childhood influence our development as adults. A qualitative, textual analysis was conducted on two edited extracts from interviews with a married couple. This qualitative report aims to show if and how their early experiences of separation and attachment have a bearing on their understanding of who they are as adults.
John Bowlby is credited with formulating the first concise theory of attachment In the late 1940’s. He believed that having secure attachments affords infants a secure base from which to explore fully the world around them, whilst providing a source of comfort and guidance. He states that it is “essential to mental health that an infant or young child should experience a warm, intimate and continual environment with its mother.” (Bowlby, 1953, p.6) Without these attachments, research conducted by Goldfarb (1947) on children living in institutions, has suggested that infants have found it difficult to form relationships and this has led to further problems both emotionally and socially in their development as an adult. At the heart of Bowlbys’ theory of attachment is the establishment of the “internal working model”, (Bowlby, 1969); this being a combination of the beliefs the child has formed of itself and its relationship with its mother (usually the primary caregiver) and a critical time period for these attachments to form, usually from six months to two and a half years. (Bowlby, 1951).A child’s internal working model is rooted in its’ early experiences with its primary caregivers. Bowlby argues that if these are positive experiences the child will have a strong healthy model of others being responsive to his/her needs, whilst negative experiences will have a detrimental influence on the child’s later development into an adult. A former pupil of Bowlbys, Mary Ainsworth, followed his research in her “Strange Situation Study”, (Ainsworth et al, 1974). She classified three different types of attachment; insecure, secure and absent. Her research highlighted the importance of the reaction of the mother on being reunited with her child and suggests that it is the quality of parenting that determines how secure a child feels when separation occurs. Ainsworth would argue that a child’s sense of self worth is fundamentally linked to the attachment type it develops. Furthermore, can this knowledge be used to predict attachment types in adults? A method of researching attachment in adults was devised by Mary Main using a structured interview, “The Adult Attachment Interview”, (Main, Kaplan and Cassidy, 1985). Main identified three fundamental types of adult attachment classification; insecure: dismissing, secure: autonomous and insecure: preoccupied. The correlation between infant types of attachment and the associated adult attachment types are explored in the Bielefield longitudinal study, which has been following the development of 44 children in Germany, (Zimmerman et al, 2000). Rather than confirming the predictions of classifications from the Strange Situations research however, this study suggested that it was certain life events such as death or divorce that materialised as a significant influence. Nonetheless, further research (Hamilton, 1994) has shown a clear relationship between attachment types in children and the associated types in adults. This report explores how childhood influences, in particular attachment and separation, have affected Tony and Jo, and how can this be related to Bowlby’s theory of attachment.
A qualitative study using thematic analysis was conducted on edited extracts from a transcript of two interviews previously carried out on a married couple, Tony and Jo. The first interview was carried out by Jane Tobbell who was personally known to the couple. The second interview was carried out by Dan Goodley who had not met the couple before. Both interviewers asked questions relating to identity and the couple’s experiences of early childhood. The interview was previously recorded especially for teaching purposes and the couple had already given their consent for the data to be used within a psychological context. On reading the extracts from the two interviews, the theme of attachment was identified and the relevant text was highlighted, recording alongside notes relating to the theme. Analysis From reading the transcript I have analysed the specific theme of how feelings of attachment and separation in early childhood has influenced Tony and Jo throughout their lives and impacted on how they see themselves now with regards to their identity and how they have brought up their own children. Tony states that he see himself as: “A mass of contradiction. A workaholic to a certain extent. Fairly easy going. I’m always accused of manipulating situations. But that’s just my management style.” (lines 7-9) On asked about his early experiences as a child he replies that: “I had a very disrupted childhood. I was taken ill when I was eleven and didn’t go to school much before I was eleven because of the war and being moved around the country.” (lines 24-26) Tony realises that many aspects were significant in his life: “So there are a lot of strange influences and I’ve, yes I suppose I am self educated I’ve read an awful lot obviously.” (lines 40-41) Jo has similar experiences to Tony in that she too was brought up during the war, and was separated from her parents at an early age: “I went to school in Leeds ’til I was just eight and then I was evacuated. Which I found quite traumatic like everybody else. And then I, I went to boarding school for the next ten years.” (lines 44-47)
Tony confirms Jo’s statements of childhood and separation: “Well I mean one way in which Jo and I. One experience that Jo and I both had as young children was that, that our fathers were taken away from us because of the war.” (lines 89-92) Jo talks about her feelings of being separated from her father during the war and how it affected her: “No, I remember that the when the Dunkirk was there and I was at school and I was left at school, after during the holidays. And it was the period of whether he would get home.” (lines 93-95) She confirms that it is an important memory for her: “And I remember that distinctly.” (line 96) And how her own children have been affected by the possibility of separation: ” Whereas our children, you know one family we knew there was a separation and our children got quite frightened didn’t they? Where we going to do the same thing.” (lines 97-99) Jo states her independence within their relationship by stating: “No, we’ve encouraged each other to keep up our own interests as much as we possibly could.” (lines 119,120) Whilst Tony recognises their mutual interests are also important: “And we have a lot of interests in common obviously because you know those are the things that bring you together.” (lines 124,125) Jo sees that it is important for a child to have security from their parents: “But that can’t be in my estimation, if you want to nurture and encourage your children, then someone or other has got to stay, perhaps to hold back a little to give as much as you can to your children.” (lines 145-148)
Tony states that he does not feel the way he was brought up will have bearing on his own children’s lives: “I, I think that life has moved on or changes have taken place so rapidly that our children are not going to be awfully influenced by our lifestyle in our early years.” (lines 150-152) Jo disagrees with Tony as she seems to understand the importance of secure attachments in early childhood: “No. But don’t you think that it’s the base that you create as being the stability because children like stability.” (lines 153,154) She goes on to confirm her understanding: “And it’s the stable base that you make around them that matters more and who you bring into that stability.” (lines 154 -156) But recognises the difficulties involved and the fact that other primary caregivers can also influence development: “Whether it’s another relationship or whether it’s more friends. I think that the hardest thing to maintain.” (lines 156-158) Discussion The aim of this study is to show if early experiences of separation and attachment have an influence on our development into adult life. It should be noted that the transcript used was specially designed for the purpose of psychological study. The two main issues to arise from this study are the separation from the father endured by both Tony and Jo (lines 89-92, 93-95) and the enforced separation from the mother during the evacuation (lines 24-26, 44-47). Both Tony and Jo’s fathers went away to war but this was whilst they were still at school, so it would seem prudent to assume that a secure attachment could possibly have already been established with the mother and father before the separation occurred. Bowlby’s theory tends to focus on the attachment formed with the primary caregiver, usually the mother, so we are uncertain exactly as to how separation from the father would affect a child. Likewise the enforced separation endured by the couple in their time at boarding school would also appear to be at a later time in their childhood.
Bowlby argues in his theory of attachment that there is a critical period of time for attachments to form and a healthy internal working model to become established and these events both occurred after the critical period. As Ainsworth showed in her research that it is the quality of the reunion of the mother after separation that is of importance, and further studies by Hamilton illustrated that adult types could be predicted from infant attachment types, can we assume then that both Tony and Jo have secure attachments and a healthy internal working model from their answers? As we have no information really about their very early experiences it would be unwise to make this inference, however, we can see that the relationship between Tony and Jo is based on mutual interests whilst retaining their own autonomy (lines 119-120, 124- 125), this would appear to suggest that their adult attachment type is secure- autonomous. If we are to take into account that all the separations in their lives occurred after this critical time period then we can assume these experiences should not have affected the previous attachments already made, seeming to support the research carried out by Hamilton. However, the Bielefield study showed that it was more likely to be certain life events that influence the developing child and Tony would appear to agree that there were many influences in his childhood and he sees himself as having many different personality traits (lines 24-26, 7-9) Still, the reiterations that Jo makes (lines 145-148, 153-156, 156-158) in that she believes stability and a stable base are the most important influences in a child’s life are certainly consistent with Bowlby’s theory. It should be noted that the transcript used to produce the qualitative data for this study was taken from a filmed interview with the couple in question. It is therefore possible that as the interviewees were aware this was for psychological research they could have felt under pressure to go into more detail then necessary and bring up issues that they felt the researcher was looking for. The fact that they were filmed may have also had an effect on the way they answered the questions posed to them. Their responses do appear to indicate that their enforced separations during their childhood have had no direct detrimental affect on their developments into adulthood. Reflexive Analysis
My thoughts on this study are that reports carried out on qualitative research need to be undertaken by the interviewer. The fact that I was conducting the analysis on a transcript I had only read and watched as a tape meant that I could not ask questions I felt were pertinent to my chosen theme of research. As only extracts were available I feel that it would have been useful to have been present in person for the whole interview to get a complete picture of the couple. Although the transcript provided seems in part to support Bowlby’s theory, I would have liked to see much more discussion on Tony and Jo’s very early experiences of childhood before the separations from their parents, as possibly more could have be deduced from these responses in regard to their development into adults. Moreover, there are many difficulties in conducting qualitative research; the objectivity of the interviewer, how this could affect the type of questions asked should the researcher be personally affected by the subject. The reaction of the interviewees to the researcher is also an important factor, they may or may not feel able to open up with a particular researcher. I believe these are fundamental limitations and no way to limit the variables involved.
Although qualitative studies can provide a useful insight into insider viewpoints, it can only really produce highly personalised accounts and should therefore it use in providing general corroboration for particular theories is partial. A more effective way to use qualitative research in this manner would be to ask the same questions to a sample of people by the same researcher in an attempt to limit the variables.

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