Attachment is characterized by specific behaviors in children, such as seeking proximity to the attachment figure when upset or threatened (Bowlby, 1969).
Stages of Attachment
Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson (1964) investigated if attachment develops through a series of stages, by studying 60 babies at monthly intervals for the first 18 months of life (this is known as a longitudinal study).
The children were all studied in their own home, and a regular pattern was identified in the development of attachment.
The babies were visited monthly for approximately one year, their interactions with their carers were observed, and carers were interviewed.
A diary was kept by the mother to examine the evidence for the development of attachment. Three measures were recorded:
• Stranger Anxiety – response to arrival of a stranger.
• Separation Anxiety – distress level when separated from carer, degree of comfort needed on return.
• Social Referencing – degree that child looks at carer to check how they should respond to something new (secure base).
Bowlby suggested that a child would initially form only one primary attachment (monotropy) and that the attachment figure acted as a secure base for exploring the world.
The attachment relationship acts as a prototype for all future social relationships so disrupting it can have severe consequences.
This theory also suggests that there is a critical period for developing an attachment (about 0 -5 years).
If an attachment has not developed during this period, then the child will suffer from irreversible developmental consequences, such as reduced intelligence and increased aggression.