Does quality of attachment in infancy predict subsequent social and cognitive development?
“A young child’s experience of an encouraging, supportive and co-operative mother, gives him a sense of worth, a belief in the helpfulness of others, and a favourable model on which to build future relationships. Furthermore, by enabling him to explore his environment with confidence and to deal with it effectively, such experience also promotes his sense of competence” (Bowlby, 1971). This essay will discuss the degree to which quality of attachment can predict subsequent social and cognitive development in the following way: It first considers the meaning of “quality of attachment”. In this respect it tries to define high and low quality of attachment. Then it raises the question of the degree to which a prediction can take place and looks at the other factors influencing social and cognitive development. It goes on to discuss the significance of the term subsequent. Subsequently it examines the different ways in which quality of attachment does influence social and cognitive development. Finally it summarizes the results from the different sections to provide a coherent answer.
What does quality of attachment mean? Durkin (1995) describes attachment as an emotional bond in which a person’s sense of security is bound up in the relationship. Quality of attachment is sometimes paired with intensity of attachment as it is to a certain extent in Ainsworth’s Strange Situation experiment. This can be misleading, as a strong attachment is not necessarily of high quality. A 35 year old man for instance, who still lives with his mother and asks her for permission every time he goes on a date may be very strongly attached, but it is surely not a healthy attachment. As cross-cultural studies have demonstrated, the definition of the intensity to which a child should be attached differs amongst and within cultures. The different values, backgrounds, anticipations, perceptions and assumptions of parents amongst different nationalities or social classes may affect the type of attachment infants develop. German parents for instance consider some of the behaviours of Type B (securely attached) infants as signs for being “spoilt” babies. They encourage their infant to become independent and thus it might seem that it is less attached, but this must not be a bad sign. (Gleitman, 1999). In a similar way, a significant difference is observable between working and non-working mothers. Working mothers tend to encourage their infant’s independence. The avoidance in the Strange Situation is perceived as a sign of healthy autonomy rather than insecurity (Durkin, 1995). On the other hand, working mother’s have less time and energy for their infants, which are put into day care. There are researchers that claim that this puts the infants security at risk (Sroufe et al., 1983). However research suggests, that the opportunity for an infant to form a bond with a stable professional caregiver is very helpful to infants whose relationship with one or both parents is insecure. When these are followed into early school years, such children show higher self-esteem and more socially skilled behaviour that their insecurely attached age mates who did not attend day care (Egeland & Farber, 1984). A child that is too strongly attached may not be able to think and explore independently, as it is too dependent on and suppressed by the mother. On the other hand, a child that is not attached enough, might not feel secure and capable of exploring and learning. It might have a very low self-esteem and therefore be less confident in developing cognitively and socially. So, how can quality of attachment be defined? It is difficult to say, as every individual in different circumstances and environments may need distinct intensity of attachment.