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Attachment Styles & Their Influence On Later Life

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The parental interaction towards children during their development is what shapes their further development into later life. This review of secure-attachment, sensitive parenting and later social-emotional development will examine literature that supports the hypothesis that secure-attachment in infancy predicts a positive development and benefits compared to other attachment styles.

Bowlby (1973; 1980) notes that attachments between caretakers and children begin at infancy. Children learn how to maximise and maintain proximity and elicit protection and care through their own perception of their caregiver (Bowlby, 1980). The attachment theory was mainly contributed to by Ainsworth, which displays the concept of the parent acting as a secure base that allows the infant to explore. Secure attachment has been linked to positive developmental outcomes, as generally these infants tend to have better social-emotional outcomes compared to those infants who are insecurely attached (Ramsdal, Bergvik, & Winn, 2015). The quality of the relationship and attachment between parents and children is important for the social-emotional development of that child, and if this attachment is detrimental it can have great consequences later in life (van der Voort, Femmie Juffer, and Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2014). Children feel confident to experience and explore if they are assured in their attachment figures, providing a system that regulates proximity and exploratory needs (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007).

There has been in-depth research into this topic as it is essential to development. Secure-attachment is the most desirable attachment style, this being characterised as a positive outlook on oneself, and others inclusive of relationships. Researchers have outlined four attachment styles being secure, anxious-ambivalent, disorganised and anxious-avoidant (Ainsworth, Belhar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). Anxious-ambivalent attachment arises if the infant is separated from the caregiver and is not comforted upon their return, where as anxious-avoidant attachment occurs if the infant avoids the caregivers. (Ainsworth et al., 1978). Disorganised attachment is simply when there is a lack of behavioural attachment. In order to develop the secure attachment style (the most desirable), sensitive parenting is crucial (Ainsworth et al., 1978). The literature explores the benefits of this attachment style with thorough research into later life aspects such as relationships with peers, emotion regulation, and behavioural adjustment. Majority of the literature uses methods to assess peer competence such as questionnaires from parents, teachers, and/or children (Hubbs-tait, Osofsky, Hann & McDonald Culp, 1994; Fagot, 1997), sociometric ratings by peers either with target child, alone or in groups (Waters, Wippman, & Sroufe, 1978), or dyads coded by trained observers (Park & Waters, 1992). Many studies also make use of meta-analysis, merging data from numerous other studies.

Maternal sensitivity and secure attachment relationships are necessary in order to predict behavioural problems in later social development. In a study conducted with an adoption sample it was shown that a secure attachment relationship during infancy, childhood and adolescence are important in order to predicts positive outcomes in social development in later life (Jaffari-Bimmel, Juffer, Van IJzendoorn, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & Mooijaart, 2006). The Erickson scales were utilised and adapted, taking into account that as one grows older the interaction between child and mother becomes less physical and more verbal. It was also confirmed that maternal sensitivity during the adolescent period was a predictor of less reckless and delinquent behaviour (Van der Voort, Linting, Juffer, Bakermans-Kranenburg, Schoenmaker, and Van IJzendoorn, 2014), and in relation to adopted adolescent’s maternal sensitivity predicted less hindered behaviour (Van der Voort et al., 2014). Ultimately these findings present that parental sensitivity has the potential to inhibit development of problem behaviour even in the context of genetically unrelated parents and children, meaning that the nurture from the parent is essential for social-emotional development (Lamb et al., 1985).

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In terms of social competence, attachment theory articulates that children acquire working models that set expectations based on former interactions and experiences, then guiding how their social interactions play out (Bretherton & Munholland, 2008). Positive working models are created by securely attached children with sensitive caregivers, meaning they approach different social situations with trust. Henceforth contrasting with children who have insecure attachment, developing a sense of incompetence with their experiences influencing expectations towards future potential relationships (Bretherton & Munholland 2008). Bowlby noted that secure attachment will promote positive expectations of relationships with peers and will have a predisposition to be involved with others. Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson, & Collins (2005) found that there were significant links from early childhood to adulthood in terms of secure attachment and social competence, using a range of techniques inclusive of observation, teacher ratings, peer sociometric as well as interviews with the subjects. Those who had history of secure attachment had higher social competence due to their representations and expectations of relationships, and their engagement and interaction with others (Sroufe et al., 2005). Pre-schoolers and middle childhood participants were more active in the group and less isolated. Furthermore, Sroufe et al., (2005) found in middle childhood that relationships were reciprocated, and these children were able to keep a close friendship whilst interacting with a group of others (coordinated friendships). In adolescence, it was found those with secure attachment history were found to be more effective in mixed-gender peer groups and had notable leadership qualities which in a camp group study, the adolescents were more frequently chosen as spokespersons and were also looked to for difficult discussions (Englund, Levy, Hyson, & Scroufe, 2000). Groh, Fearon, Bakermans-Kranenburg, Van IJzendoorn, Steel, and Roisman (2014) conducted four different meta-analyses in relation to social competence construct. They tested for relations between social competence and attachment security, avoidance, resistance and disorganisation. The children who rated as secure demonstrated higher social competence. Results found that the study provided evidence that predicted effects in early adolescence did not decrease in later life due to age (Groh et al., 2014).

Those who experience insensitive parenting and develop insecure and disorganised attachments are found to be less able to regulate their emotions which potentially aids in the child developing feelings of anger and fear as well as externalisation of problem behaviour in the later stages of their development (Thompson, 2008). This was demonstrated in Fearon, Bakermans-Kranenburg, Van IJzendoorn, Lapsley, and Roisman, (2010) as both were shown to predict externalisation problems that was predicted by their mothers via meta-analyses. This supports the finding that insecurity is generally found to relate to externalisation behaviour, partially confirming findings that emphasise roles of disorganised attachment. Insecurity and disorganisation are linked to behavioural problems of externalising problems as shown in (van der Voort et al., 2014). It was concluded that middle childhood security was considerably linked with the coping of stress, with similar findings reported during middle adolescent attachment (Kerns, Abraham, Schlegelmich, and Morgan, 2007). Forty-two studies conducted on internalising behaviour problems presented that internalising problems is related to insecurity and avoidance (Cohen’s d = 0.15 and 0.17).

Limitations with these studies is that they focus on observation and report. Namely, Fearon et al., 2010, focused on mother’s report of their children through meta analyses, meaning that there can be some bias to the reports, whether that be too critical or too lenient. A limitation is also that it is difficult to identify internalising problem behaviour compared to the latter, therefore making it difficult to report by parents and teachers. Having the report methods such as teacher and peer reports, self-evaluation, and observation, one can never truly have the ultimate unbiased results. Even though meta-analytic reviews are important to further our understanding, there are still questions that lie in terms of the causal implications of attachment security for development (Groh et al., 2014). A further area of research could potentially to look into understanding the underlying mechanisms and causational chains in the development of externalisation of behaviour problems (Fearon et al., 2010). It would also benefit the field from studies that use experimental and non-experimental designs, focusing on identification of mechanisms that early attachment experiences have on development.

The extent of the research presents convincing evidence that a secure attachment relationship created via sensitive parenting has positive benefits in the social-emotional development stage from infancy to adulthood. It promotes a positive outlook on one’s self and others and helps with emotional regulation, relationships and behavioural adjustment. The literature has presented that secure attachment is the most beneficial style to promote positive and beneficial social-emotional development for children later in life. Potential improved methods, instead of just observation and report methods would aid further research into this field in order to prevent bias in overall outcomes.

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Attachment Styles & Their Influence On Later Life. (2021, September 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 9, 2023, from
“Attachment Styles & Their Influence On Later Life.” Edubirdie, 29 Sept. 2021,
Attachment Styles & Their Influence On Later Life. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 9 Jun. 2023].
Attachment Styles & Their Influence On Later Life [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 29 [cited 2023 Jun 9]. Available from:
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