Social Behavior


Social Behavior Essay, Research Paper

Why have psychologists stressed the importance of attachment behaviours in

development? Many theorists agree that social contact early in a child’s life is

important for healthy personality development. This is the most important

relationship of the child development period as it is from this that the child

drives its confidence in the world. A break from this relationship is

experienced as highly distressing and constitutes a considerable trauma

(Schaffer 1964). Through frequent social and emotional exchanges with parents

the infant not only defines itself, but also acquires a particular style and

orientation that some researchers believe is carried over into later life (Sroufe

1978). Therefore, the relationship between an infant and its caregiver and its

development is one that has generated much interest to developmental

psychologists. John Bowlby (1958, 1968) put forward a comprehensive account of

attachment and believed that the infant and mother instinctively trigger each

other’s behaviour to form an attachment bond. Attachment can therefore be

defined as ‘ the ability to form focused, permanent and emotionally meaningful

relationships with specific others’ (Butterworth & Harris 1994). In child

psychology, attachment is often restricted to a relationship between particular

social figures and to a particular phenomenon thought to reflect unique

characteristics of the relationship ( Santrock & Bartlett 1986). This essay

will attempt to examine the role and importance of attachment behaviours in

development. In Bowlby’s view, there is a dyadic emotional regulation between

the infant and the mother or caregiver. The infant has innate signals to elicit

responses from the caregiver. Conversely, infant behaviour such as crying,

cooing, smiling etc are elicited by the caregivers specific actions e.g. leaving

the room or putting the infant down. Santrock and Bartlett (1986) found that

‘the infant’s behaviour is directed by the primary goal of maintaining the

mother’s proximity. The baby processes information about the mother’s location

and changes his behaviour based on this fact. Thus┘instinct or a fixed

pattern is the primary force for developmental change, but is transformed

through social experience.’ This reciprocal tie of mother and infant is a state

that ensures care and protection during the most vulnerable period of

development. This attachment to the mother has a clear biological survival

value, explaining the significance of the mother-infant interaction within the

overall framework of attachment behaviour. Sroufe (1991) supports this view, he

maintains that attachment refers to a behavioural system, which is ’selected for

its effect on the reproductive success of individuals in the environment in

which they evolved.’ Bowlby argued that different attachment behaviours, such as

crying, following etc, are functionally related, in that all may lead to the

same outcome – the caregiver-infant proximity (Sroufe 1991). Bowlby argues that

attachment, is therefore a primary process, which is innate, and is mediated by

social interchange. Here the visual channel plays an important role, i.e.

through smiling and eye to eye contacts. Bowlby outlined four phases of the

development of attachment as an integrated system of behaviours in infants:

Phase 1:- Birth – 2/3 months The infant directs his attachment to human figures

on an instinctual bias; all are equally likely to elicit smiling or crying

because the infant is not discriminating. Phase 2:- 3-6 months The infant’s

attachment focuses on one figure, typically the primary caregiver. Phase 3:- 6-9

months The intensity of attachment to the mother or caregiver increases. Due to

this and newly acquired motor skills, the infant now readily seeks the proximity

to the caregiver. Phase 4:- 9-12 months The elements of attachment listed above

become integrated into a mutual system of attachment to which both infant and

mother contribute. Bowlby argued that communication between the infant and the

caregiver takes the form of non verbal communication, this can be eye to eye

contact, or face to face interaction. He went on to propose that the baby’s

smile is the essential catalyst that generates the infant-caregiver interaction.

The interaction goes through positive feedback on both sides until it becomes a

conversation of visually perceived gestures. Wright (1991) outlines the progress

of this progression of ’smiling’ in the development of attachment behaviours:

Begins at birth: At first the smile is fleeting and incomplete. 4-5 weeks: The

smile is now nearly complete and the trigger for the smile becomes more

specific. 5-6 weeks: The smile response is now fully formed. 6-10 weeks: The

mother/caregivers face evokes a more immediate and generous smile than any other

does. 2-3 months: The smile response to the mothers/ caregivers and other

familiars becomes more dominant; with responses to strangers becoming weaker. 8

months onwards: The specificity of response becomes firmly established;

strangers are responded to quite differently from familiar faces, and the

mother/ caregivers face evokes the strongest response of all. Experiments

confirm that after the fifth week happy visual interactions elicit a smile

response from a baby. In weeks 6 to 12 the baby is learning the characteristics

of human faces by tracking the face, the hairline etc. The child will also grin

when eye contact is finally made. Studies support the view that the eyes are the

most important part of the ‘visual gestalt’ that elicits a smile (Wright 1991).

Therefore, the mother’s face and the baby’s smile are the central features of

the playful interaction that is basic to the attachment process. The baby’s

responses become increasingly directed and specific; the mother’s pleasure in

and responsiveness to her baby increase as she feels that her baby recognises

her. ‘Here is a conversation without words, a smiling between faces, at the

heart of human development.’ (Wright 1991) Findings from animal studies of

behaviour influenced Bowlby ideas. Harlow and Zimmerman (1959) conducted an

experiment that proved that attachment was not based on the supply of food

involving infant monkeys. The infant monkeys were placed in a cage with two,

wire mesh, surrogate monkey mothers. One was covered with terrycloth fabric

while the other was left as it was. The infant monkeys were fed from the wire

mother. The hypothesis was that if the main cause for attachment was food then

one would expect that the monkeys would cling to the wire monkey which supplied

milk. In actual fact, the monkeys preferred to spend their time between feedings

close to or clinging to the cloth mother. They would also jump on this when

frightened. Harlow’s studies demonstrate the importance of physical contact for

the attachment bond. Other interesting findings from this experiment were that

the baby’s raised from birth in the laboratory did not establish healthy social

behaviours. They did not engage in typical mating behaviour, and mother monkeys

proved to be neglectful and abusive towards their offspring, not cuddling or

feeding their young. Harlow attributed this disruptive behaviour to the lack of

social contact with other monkeys during development (Brodzinsky,Gormly &

Ambron 1979). Schaffer and Emerson (1964) conducted an influential study which

looked at sixty children every month for their first twelve months, and showed

that reinforcement from feeding was not able to account for attachment of

infants to some people. Findings showed that the infants formed multiple

attachments with parents, grandparents and siblings, and also those who did

actually took little or no care of the infants basic needs. Instead attachments

were formed with individuals who were prepared to play, be responsible and

interact socially with the child. Based on such studies, Bowlby’s reasoning was

that the biological need for security has resulted in infants possessing a

number of attachment behaviours, e.g. crying, following proximity seeking etc,

and that these behaviours are used to achieve the goal of a feeling of security,

when infants feel insecure they will produce these behaviours. Bowlby greatly

influenced the way researchers thought about attachment. There then followed the

need for some sort of measurement of attachment behaviour. Mary Ainsworth (1971)

developed Bowlby’s ideas and elaborated on the phases to include other social

behaviours, and the use of the attachment figure as a secure base. The ’strange

situation’ was designed to measure the quality of attachment between mothers and

their infants. The procedure involved observing the infants reactions to a

stranger when in the presence of the mother, when alone with the stranger, then

in the third phase, reunited with the mother. Three characteristics patterns

were observed: (i)Group B – Secure Attachment relationships: These children use

the mother as a base of security in a strange situation, and while the mother is

present are content to explore and also react positively to strangers. However,

when the mother leaves the room, they may or may not show distress, also in the

occasion of being alone with a stranger. Upon the mothers return, securely

attached babies generally make contact with their mothers, either by looking at

them or, in the case of those who have experienced distress, by seeking contact

and comfort from her. The hallmark of these children is that they use their

attachment figures to regain their source of security when stressed. This then

allows them to move freely through the world again through exploration and play.

Most of the babies tested by Ainsworth displayed this kind of behaviour. (ii)

Group C: Resistant insecurely attached relationships: These children are more

likely to seem anxious or distressed and in need of contact even when the mother

is in the room. This type of infant has trouble using the mother as a secure

base for exploration. Upon reunion with the mother after separation, the infant

may, while seeking contact with her may actively resist her efforts to comfort

them. (iii) Group A: Avoidant insecurely attached relationships: The children of

this group separate readily to play, and do not particularly seek to be close to

their mother when alone with her. They are also not particularly distressed when

left alone with a stranger. Most significantly, on reunion with their mother

they show no more than a casual greeting and may ignore, or pointedly look away

from turn away from, or move away from the caregiver. They do not initiate

action and are not responsive to the mothers attempts at interaction (Sroufe

1995). This situation of being left alone, and then being reunited with the

caregiver can be categorised into these three categories. An explanation of this

is that with prolonged separation, the emotional upheaval is so great that the

infants behavioural structure is disorganised, and cannot be put back together

immediately. ‘In clinical terms, one could speak of the infant as at first

defending against the possibility of renewed pain and vulnerability by not

acknowledging the presence of the caregiver.’ (Sroufe 1995) All in all the

different patterns of attachment have complex causes. They are thought to

develop as a response to different styles of mothering and as a consequence of

the temperamental characteristics of the child. However, the classification may

vary from culture to culture and the same baby may show different patterns

depending on whether parents or siblings accompany the baby in the test. The

practical importance of attachment research can be seen in the areas of

hospitalisation, and re homing orphaned or foster children. The knowledge gained

from these tests should help policy makers deal with these issues with

sensitivity. Hospitalisation of infants in particular has benefited from this

research in that caregivers are now allowed to stay in hospital with their

babies or young children. The area of day care facilities have also been

benefited by this research, as it suggests that a brief separation does not

disrupt the healthy attachment bond as it was previously thought to do. However,

if there is already stress in the home environment, the separation and insecure

attachment may have adverse consequences. Longer term consequences of disrupted

attachment are more difficult to establish; but is thought to be reversible, as

children brought up in orphanages become securely attached to their adoptive

parents even as late as 8 years old ( Tizard and Hodges 1978 cited in

Butterworth & Harris 1994). In conclusion, Bowlby’s ideas and research

provided a comprehensive basis for present day approaches to attachment.

Research implies that there are, therefore three main characteristics of

attachment behaviours: Firstly, the infant seeks the closeness and proximity of

the caregiver. Secondly, that the infant shows distress at separation from the

attachment figure and then relief upon reunion, i.e., displays a clear

preference even without physical contact by eye contact or attentiveness to the

sound of the caregivers voice. Thirdly, that the infant uses the attachment

figure as a secure base from which to explore its physical and social

environment (Brodzinsky, Gormly and Ambron 1979). The importance of attachment

in the development of an infant cannot be underestimated, as it is from this

bond that the infant finds comfort security and a base from which to explore

his/her environment safely. Attachment behaviours can be seen as the

manifestation of this need that the infant has, as research suggests that a

break from a meaningful, emotionally charged lasting relationship will produce

highly distressing consequences.

Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M.C., Waters,E. and Wall,S. (1978) Patterns of

Attachment, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Bowlby, J (1969)

Attachment and Loss, Vol1 Harmondsworth: Pelican Books. Brodzinsky, D.M., Gormly,

A.V., Ambron, S.A., (1979) Lifespan Human Development, (3rd Ed.) 123-133, New

York:Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Butterworth, G., Harris, M., (1994) Principles

of Developmental Psychology, Chap. 6, Hove: LEA. Cardwell, M., Clark, L.,

Meldrum, c., (1996) Psychology for A’level, London: HarperCollins. Santrock, J.W.,

Bartlett, J.C. (1986) Developmental Psychology: A life-cycle Perspective.

294-299, Iowa: Wm.C.Brown. Schaffer, H.R.,(1998) Making Decisions about

Children, (2nd Ed.) 20-29, Blackwell. Sroufe, L. Alan, (1995) Emotional

Development, The organization of emotional life in the early years. Chap.10,

Cambridge:CUP. Wright, K. (1991) Vision and Separation: Between mother and baby,

8-11, London:FAB.

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