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Outline Influence of Childhood Experiences on Adult Relationships Essay

Individuals differ in their relationships; psychologists have researched whether adult relationships are related to early experiences in life. Bowlby believes that the type of relationship the individual has with their primary caregiver gives a basis of a future relationship. This is called the internal working model. The fear of strangers represents an important survival mechanism, which is by nature, babies display social releasers which helps them ensure contact or proximity with the primary caregiver, as they similarly will with their partner in their adult relationship.

Another example of the internal working model is the continuity hypothesis, which is a key theory to explaining childhood or adolescent experiences on later adult relationships, where it states that childhood relationships will affect your future relationships, Mary Ainsworth explores this by looking at our relationships as infants as concluded three types: Secure, insecure-avoidant, insecure-resistant.

Secure is where the infant is in a calm state even without the presence of the primary caregiver, secure avoidant is where shows little distress, avoids contact with caregiver when returns, and insecure-resistant is when child shows a lot of distress, anxious and nervous. This demonstrates the relationship that the child has with the primary caregiver when they are present and not present.

This gives the child a set of beliefs about themselves and the nature of the relationship with others, the continuity thesis see’s this as a predictive behaviour of future relationships. Hazen and Shaver also devised a theory that supports the continuity thesis, they say that when a child perceives a threat to a relationship or themselves, they will feel frightened or worried, therefore they seek the primary caregivers attention. Depending on the situation the attachment behaviour varies depending on the need of the child.

They also observed adult relationships, where adults normally feel safer and more secure when their partner is nearby and responsive, the partner may be used as a secure base, when they may feel sick or threatened they will seek attention of partner which mimics their infant-mother relationship. Another psychologist Freud, also looks into unresolved conflicts as a child, he links this into adult relationships, where he concluded that this could cause difficulty forming. He explains this using our defence mechanisms.

Again, Hazer and Shaver supports the thesis as they published the ‘love quiz’ in an American Newspaper, and found that the majority of responses were secure attachment which gave them long lasting happy and stable relationships, however this could be due to a social desirability, as only certain category of people would reply to the newspaper advertisement, for example middle class, or those that are happy in their relationship are more likely to respond to the ad rather than those in an unhappy unfulfilling relationship.

The participants were given 3 statements which each reflected the type of attachments that Mary Ainsworth found, he found those who were securely attached trusted each other and was in a happy stable relationship, those who were insecure avoidant were uncomfortable being close to others and insecure resistant were likely to be possessive and preoccupied about their relationships.

However this study has been criticised for social desirability as participants may respond different knowingly that their information would be shared, and also for being retrospective as they are doing this from memory However there has been other explanations that suggests otherwise, for example Kagan presents the temperament hypothesis where different infants simply may just have different personalities, for Kagan the strange situation measures the temperament rather than attachment and the attachment behaviours displayed are a reflection of this infants temperament.

However the bizarre case study of the Czech twins would go against the continuity theory as to where their childhood attachment were abusive, unsatisfied and had no social or emotional bonds went to the opposite after they were adopted by two loving sisters who they formed a normal loving bond and both went onto have long lasting stable relationships, this doesn’t show that adult relationships replicating childhood attachments as they are still able to have normal relationships without experiencing it at childhood.

The continuity thesis is also very reductionist as they don’t take in any other consideration or factors that can affect their relationships, for example peer influence, cultural differences for example, a collectivist culture is more likely to spend most their time mothering the child, so they are more likely to form an insecure attachment, but can still go on to developing normal relationships.


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