Friday, August 19, 2011

Maternal Attachment: Characteristics of the Child

  We have defined maternal attachment and looked at the characteristics of different mothering styles.  But, why does it all matter? How does it affect the child?  Below are three patterns of attachment observed by Mary Ainsworth. (Later researchers identified other attachment patterns as some observations show that as many as 15-20% of infants do not meet the below criteria. To read about this "unclassified" infants, check out this post)  If you have not already, be sure to check out the original post about maternal attachment so that you are familiar with the Strange Situation experiment as it used when describing the attachment patterns.

Securely Attached Infants
      Ainsworth considers this the healthy attachment pattern, and studies indicate it describes about 65% of infants in the United States.  Securely attached infants use their mother as a secure base from which to explore.  They play and practice moving about a room but have knowledge of the mother's whereabouts and might look back at her and smile or otherwise interact.  They enjoy physical contact with the mother.  When the mother leaves the room during the Strange Situation experiment, these infants might cry or otherwise become visibly upset. However, no severe signs of anxiety are expressed. and, their mood quickly improves when the mother returns.
     In the home observations, the mothers quickly responded to the baby's needs and happily comforted the baby.  Generally, the babies displayed little sign of stress at home.

Insecure-Avoidant Infants
    Here, the child and the mother seem to not be in-synch with each other.  This relationship is found in about 20% of infants in the United States. At times the mother may want to have physical contact with the child, but the child is engaged in play and is resentful of the mother's interruptions. Likewise, when the child activity seeks affection from the mother, she may ignore the child and continue her activities.  Eventually, the child will cease his attempts.  While the child may occasionally use the mother as a secure base, this is not always the case, and he can seem quite independent at times.  This may lead some to believe that the child is healthy and able to take care of himself. However, it is actually an indicator of detachment from the mother that is likely a result of the times he gave up fighting for her attention.  These children realize that they cannot always depend on their mothers for support and, thus, become self-protective.

Insecure-Ambivalent Infants
    These infants are scared to leave their mothers' side to explore.  When the mother leaves during the Strange Situation, the infant is very distressed and quickly goes to his mother upon her return.  At the same time, however, he is upset with her. He is torn between emotions.  During home observations, it was observed that the mothers to insecure-ambivalent infants were inconsistent in their treatment.  At times, they were loving, while other times, they ignored the infants.  This usually describes 10-15% of infants in the United States.

Ainsworth, Mary. (1970). Criteria for Classification of One-Year-Olds in Terms of the Balance Between Exploratory and Attachment Behavior at Home. Retrieved from
Crain, William. (2011). Theories of Development: Concepts and Application. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

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