John Bowlby’s attachment theory refers to the clear emotional relationship infants demonstrate toward their primary caregivers. Mary Ainsworth expanded on Bowlby’s attachment theory, and developed the Strange Situation procedure in order to observe and assess the quality of attachment in relationships between a child and their primary caregiver. In this procedure, the child is observed as they play for twenty minutes while their caregiver and a stranger enter and leave the room. First, the mother and child enter a strange room alone together. The mother sits as the baby discovers toys and notices the new surroundings. Next, a stranger comes into the room. After a few minutes, the stranger interacts with the child, and gives the mother the signal to discreetly leave the room, leaving the child alone with the stranger to see how the child will react. The mother comes back in to comfort the child, and the stranger leaves. Once the child is settled, the mother leaves the room again, leaving the child alone. Again, the stranger comes back into the room. Finally, the mother returns, and the stranger leaves the room. The two things observed in the child’s behavior during this procedure are the amount of exploration the child participates in during the time period, and the child’s reaction to the mother leaving and returning to the room.
There are four models of child attachment behavior noted during the procedure. Securely attached, insecure-avoidant, insecure-resistant, and disorganized-disoriented. A child who is securely attached to its caregiver will explore freely while the caregiver is in the room, and they will engage with strangers. They will be visibly upset when their caregiver leaves the room, and happy to see them when they return. They do not encounter the stranger when the caregiver is not present. A child with an insecure-avoidant attachment style will avoid their caregiver, and they show little emotion when their caregiver leaves or returns. This child will not explore much, and they will respond to the stranger the same way they do their caregiver. A child with an insecure-resistant attachment style is nervous to explore, and they are uncomfortable around the stranger when the caregiver is present. When their caregiver leaves, they are extremely distraught, but when they return, the child will resentfully seek their closeness. A child with a disorganized-disoriented attachment style demonstrates a high level of confusion and inconsistent behaviors when their caregiver leaves and returns. They do not express consistent emotional responses to their caregiver’s actions, and appear distant when they are being comforted by their caregiver.
A child whose mother suffers from postpartum depression will likely demonstrate an insecure-avoidant attachment style, because this depression causes the mother to be withdrawn, disengaged, neglectful, and sometimes aggressive and intrusive towards her infant. These damaging parenting behaviors cause the infant to feel angry, which cause the child to develop behaviors of being timid, nervous, and withdrawn. The long-term development problem in childhood is the child will show a reduced amount of meaningful speech, and may perform inadequately on measures of natural language functioning. In adolescence, this attachment style increases the risk for depression and maladaptation. It can lead to low self-esteem, feelings of being helpless, and having a poor self-image. This can impact an adolescent’s choices as to whether or not they participate in risky behaviors such as using alcohol, drugs, or being sexually active.
Exploring the interaction between unique features of development can help us in our continued learning of human development by understanding how environments and relationships affect a person’s overall development as adults. With understanding and education to these attachment styles, early intervention is possible. This intervention can improve a child’s internal perception of their parent-child relationship, therefore, improving their overall development.
Bernard-Bonnin, A. (n.d.). Maternal Depression and Child Development. Retrieved November 17, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724169/
Davidson, F. (Producer). (2007) John Bowlby: Attachment theory across generations: Elements of attachment Theory [Video file]. Retrieved from the Films On Demand database.
Davidson, F. (Producer). (2007) John Bowlby: Attachment theory across generations: Strange Situation [Video file]. Retrieved from the Films On Demand database.
Mossler, R. (2014). Child and Adolescent Development (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education.
Postpartum Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2015, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007215.htm
Toth, S., Cicchetti, D., Rogosch, F., & Sturge-Apple, M. (2009). Maternal Depression, Children’s Attachment Security, and Representational Development: An Organizational Perspective. Retrieved December 9, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2785452/