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Discuss the Evidence That Attachment Relationships in Early Childhood Can Have Positive and Negative Consequences

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Discuss the evidence that attachment relationships in early childhood can have positive and negative consequences.

Attachment is described as an "affectionate reciprocal relationship between an individual and another individual." Much psychological research has been carried out into the types of attachments that infants form with their caregivers, and the results gained from these studies show how early attachments can affect children whether positively or negatively.

Some psychologists claim that the ability to attach to the caregiver is innate in babies. Bowlby said that 'babies are born with an innate tendency to create strong emotional bonds with their caregivers'. This is mainly for survival because the caregiver provides them with food and shelter.

Ainsworth sees attachment as an emotional bond. The baby feels a sense of security and comfort when with the caregiver, and uses them as a safe base to explore the world.

Ainsworth carried out a study to find how securely attached, infants were to their caregivers. Ainsworth's Strange Situation has found there to be three types of attachments. Some infants were found to have a secure attachment, where separation and stranger anxiety occurred, and the infants were comforted when their caregiver returned. Infants were said to have an avoidant attachment when they treated caregivers and strangers in the same way, and avoided contact on the mother's return. When infants were greatly upset upon separation from their caregivers and could not be comforted by stranger or caregiver, they were said to have a resistant attachment.

There are different factors that influence which attachment a child will have with its caregiver. These could include whether the child is placed in an institution, whether the child has an illness which means it has to stay in hospital over a long period of time, or the health of the parents e.g. if the child's caregiver suffers from depression this will have an effect on the child and its behaviour. This essay will look at some of these factors, and will discuss evidence which will help to answer the question of whether or not these relationships affect children later in life.

Some psychologists claim that there is a critical period directly after birth, between the mother and baby, which is formed during skin-to-skin contact (Klaus and Kennell, 1972). Other researchers disagree with this view and believe that there are no short or long term effects with children who did not have extra contact with their mothers straight after birth. Klaus and Kennell tested their hypothesis by separating new mothers into two groups, and giving one group extra contact time with their babies. They found that the attachments for mothers and babies in this group, seemed to be stronger than with mothers and babies who had not spent so much time together at first. The mothers would cuddle and soothe the baby more. These results were supported further when Klaus and Kennell re-assessed the attachments two years later finding similar results. Their research suggests that more contact in this 'critical period' produces a stronger and more secure attachment for the mother and baby, which results in positive consequences later in life, (the mother and baby show a closer bond).

However, other research that has been carried out into this area has not found similar results. Psychologists have also pointed out that some adopted mothers have reported feeling just as close to their child as other mothers, which doesn't support Klaus and Kennell's research because adopted mothers didn't experience any contact in the critical period immediately after birth. Not all adopted children suffer any negative consequences as a result of this, therefore Klaus and Kennell's work cannot be seen as very accurate. Despite work that has criticised this, mothers today still are kept together with their baby directly after birth. Klaus and Kennell's research would suggest that early attachment does have positive consequences. However, research is not conclusive in deciding whether attachments do form in this 'critical period' or not.

Research has also been carried out which has looked into whether or not bad attachment styles can result in negative consequences. Many studies have looked at the effects of separation of babies from their mothers. It is claimed by psychologists that depriving a baby from being with its mother will have negative consequences later on in life. Bowlby (1953) looked into the effects of deprivation on children and came up with the Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis. He believed that if an infant couldn't develop a "warm, intimate and continuous relationship" with its mother, or substitute mother, then it would have problems with behaviour and forming relationships later in life.

Bowlby conducted a study which aimed to find any causes for children to have behavioural problems. His 44 thieves study in 1944, involved looking at 88 children from a guidance clinic. Half of the children were there because they were emotionally maladjusted. The other half were thieves and did not feel guilt for the crimes they had committed. After researching the children's early lives, Bowlby found that 86% of the thieves had experienced long-term separation from their mothers compared to few of the other children. Bowlby therefore concluded that deprivation in early childhood does have negative consequences later in life.

However, Bowlby's 44 thieves study has been criticised by some psychologists who say that although the study seems to show that early separation from mothers results in problematic behaviour, there is no proof that one caused the other to happen. It is only a correlation.

If early deprivation was known to cause behavioural problems later in life, then 100% of the thieves should have shown this.

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