The Infant Grows Attached

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The Infant Grows Attached
Wire and Terry Cloth “Mothers”
Here are the two types of artificial mothers used in Harlow’s research. Although
baby monkeys received milk from the wire
mother, they spent most of their time with
the terry cloth version, and they clung to it
when frightened.
attachment A deep, affectionate,
close, and enduring relationship with a
person with whom a baby has shared
many experiences.
Chapter 9
Human Development
them. If parents are looking for signs of assertiveness, a difficult child might be just
what they want.
If parent and infant are in tune, chances increase that temperamental qualities will
be stable. Consider the temperament patterns of Chinese American and European
American children. At birth, Chinese American infants are calmer, less changeable, less
excitable, and more easily comforted when upset than European American infants
(Kagan et al., 1994). This tendency toward self-control is powerfully reinforced by the
Chinese culture. Compared with European American parents, Chinese parents are less
likely to reward and stimulate babbling and smiling and more likely to maintain close
control of their young children. The children, in turn, are more dependent on their
mothers and less likely to play by themselves. They are less vocal, noisy, and active than
European American children (Smith & Freedman, 1983).
These temperamental differences between children in different ethnic groups illustrate the combined contributions of nature and nurture. Mayan infants, for example,
are relatively inactive from birth. The Zinacantecos, a Mayan group in southern Mexico,
reinforce this innate predisposition toward restrained motor activity by tightly wrapping their infants and by nursing at the slightest sign of movement (Greenfield &
Childs, 1991). This combination of genetic predisposition and cultural reinforcement
is adaptive. Quiet infants do not kick off their covers at night, which is important in the
cold highlands where they live. Inactive infants are able to spend long periods on their
mothers’ backs as the mothers work. And infants who do not begin to walk until they
can understand some language do not wander into the open fire at the center of the
house. This adaptive interplay of innate and cultural factors in the development of temperament operates in all cultures.
The Infant Grows Attached
As infants and caregivers respond to one another in the first year, the infant begins to
form an attachment—a deep, affectionate, close, and enduring relationship—to these
important figures. John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst, drew attention to the importance of attachment after he observed children who had been orphaned in World War
II. These children’s depression and other emotional scars led Bowlby to propose a theory
about the importance of developing a strong attachment to one’s primary caregivers—
a tie that normally keeps infants close to those caregivers and, therefore, safe (Bowlby,
1973). Soon after Bowlby first described his theory, researchers in the United States
began to investigate how such attachments are formed and what happens when they
fail to form or are broken by loss or separation. The most dramatic of these studies
was conducted with monkeys by Harry Harlow.
Motherless Monkeys—and Children Harlow (1959) separated newborn monkeys from their mothers and raised them in cages containing two artificial mothers.
One “mother” was made of wire with a rubber nipple from which the infant could get
milk (see Figure 9.6). It provided food but no physical comfort. The other artificial
mother had no nipple but was made of soft, comfortable terry cloth. If attachments
form entirely because caregivers provide food, the infants would be expected to prefer
the wire mother. In fact, they spent most of their time with the terry cloth mother. And
when they were frightened, the infants immediately ran to their terry cloth mother and
clung to it. Harlow concluded that the monkeys were motivated by the need for comfort. The terry cloth mother provided feelings of softness and cuddling, which were
things the infants needed when they sensed danger.
Harlow also investigated what happens when attachments do not form. He isolated
some monkeys from all social contact from birth. After a year of this isolation, the monkeys showed dramatic disturbances. When visited by normally active, playful monkeys,
they withdrew to a corner, huddling or rocking for hours. These monkeys’ problems continued into adulthood. As adults, they were unable to have normal sexual relations. When
some of the females became pregnant through artificial means, their maternal behaviors
were woefully inadequate. In most cases, these mothers ignored their infants. When the
infants became distressed, the mothers physically abused and sometimes even killed them.
Infancy and Childhood: Social and Emotional Development
Humans who spend their first few years without a consistent caregiver react in a
tragically similar manner. At Romanian and Russian orphanages in which many children were neglected by institutional caregivers, visitors discovered that the children, like
Harlow’s deprived monkeys, were withdrawn and engaged in constant rocking (Holden,
1996). These effects tend to remain even after the children are adopted. In one study,
researchers observed the behavior of four-year-old children who had been in a Romanian orphanage for at least eight months before being adopted (Chisholm, 1997). Compared with children who had been adopted before they were four months old, the lateadopted children were found to have many more serious problems. Depressed or
withdrawn, they stared blankly, demanded attention, and could not control their tempers. Although they interacted poorly with their adoptive mothers, they were friendly
with strangers, usually trying to cuddle and kiss them. At age six, a third of late-adopted
children still showed no preference for their parents or any tendency to look to them
when stressed (Rutter, O’Connor, & ERA Study Team, 2004). Neuroscientists suggest
that the dramatic problems seen in isolated monkeys, as well as in humans, are the
result of developmental brain dysfunction and damage brought on by a lack of touch
and body movement in infancy (Wismer Fries et al., 2005; Prescott, 1996).
Forming an Attachment Fortunately, most infants do have a consistent caregiver,
usually the mother, to whom they can form an attachment. They learn to recognize her
and are able to distinguish her from a stranger at an early age. Some infants vocalize
more to their mothers than to a stranger when they are only three months old. By the
age of six or seven months, infants show signs of preferring the mother to anyone else.
They crawl after her, call out to her, hug her, climb into her lap, and protest when she
leaves (Ainsworth & Marvin, 1995). Babies who recognize and prefer their mothers even
earlier—at three months—may be especially bright. One study found that such babies
eventually achieve higher-than-average grades in high school, score higher on college
entrance exams, and complete more years of education (Roe, 2001).
Infants also develop attachments to their fathers, but usually a little later (Lamb,
1997). Father-infant interaction is also less frequent than mother-infant interaction, and
most studies show that it has a somewhat different nature (Parke, 2002). Mothers tend
to feed, bathe, dress, cuddle, and talk to their infants, whereas fathers are more likely
to play with, jiggle, and toss them, especially sons.
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Tutorial: Strange Situation Test and Attachment
Variations in Attachment The amount of closeness and contact the infant seeks
with either mother or father depends to some extent on the infant. Babies who are ill,
tired, or slow to warm up may require more closeness. Closeness also depends to some
extent on the parent. An infant whose parent has been absent or unresponsive is likely
to need more closeness than one whose parent is accessible and responsive.
Researchers have studied the differences in infants’ attachments in a special situation
that simulates the natural comings and goings of parents and infants—the so-called
Strange Situation (Ainsworth et al., 1978). Testing occurs in an unfamiliar playroom
where the infant interacts with the mother and an unfamiliar woman in brief episodes:
The infant plays with the mother and the stranger, the mother leaves the baby with the
stranger for a few minutes, the mother and the stranger leave the baby alone in the room
briefly, and the mother returns to the room.
Videotapes of these sessions show that most infants display a secure attachment to the
mother in the Strange Situation (Thompson, 2006). In the unfamiliar room, the infant
uses the mother as a home base, leaving her side to explore and play but returning to her
periodically for comfort or contact. Securely attached children can tolerate the brief separation from their mothers, but they are always happy to see them return, and they are
always receptive to the mothers’ offers of contact. These mother-child pairs, researchers
have found, tend to have harmonious interactions from the earliest months. The mothers
themselves tend to be sensitive and responsive (DeWolff & van IJzendoorn, 1997).
Some infants, however, form insecure attachments. If the relationship is avoidant, the
infant avoids or ignores the mother when she approaches or when she returns after the
brief separation. If the relationship is ambivalent, the infant is upset when the mother
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