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Sociability in the first few years of life Essay

Sociability is the desire to seek out and interact with others whereas attachment refers to the formation of a relatively strong and enduring emotional relationship between people. While these appear to be separate behaviours they are in fact interdependent. In that if someone responds in an unsociable manner to another then it is highly unlikely that an emotional relationship will be formed. Conversely if someone responds sociably towards another and this is reciprocated then it is probable that they will choose to interact on future occasions thus increasing the probability that they will form a strong enduring emotional relationship. Thus sociability is a prerequisite for attachments.

Both sociability and attachment are very important behaviours as they increase the probability that an infant will survive long enough to produce viable offspring. The function of sociability is therefore to gain the attention of potential caregivers and increase the probability that they will interact in future. Attachments serve a number of functions in that they create a safe base from which the infant can explore its environment and return to especially in potentially threatening situations. Establish a first emotional relationship that acts as the basis for later emotional relationships. Enable a gradual detachment of dependency from the attachment figure(s) so that they are able to function as independent adults. Reduces distress and promotes emotional development and development of the self-image.

Research has shown that babies exhibit sociable behaviours almost from birth – long before they have formed an attachment. Moreover research has shown that sociability is not a sudden process but instead a gradual one that develops in six consecutive stages involving behaviours that increase the probability of future interactions and opportunities for attachment to occur. These stages and related social behaviours are as follows:

The first stage occurs between the age of 0 to 2 months during which the infant displays a number of sociable behaviours. For example crying behaviour is displayed from birth and is thought to gain the attention of potential caregivers and if the caregiver is able to pacify the infant this acts as a positive reinforcer that increases the probability of future interaction and the opportunity for an emotional relationship to develop. Research by Fantz has shown that from birth to two months babies increasingly show a preference for gazing at human faces above any other object. Condon and Sanders have shown an increasing preference for an animated speaking human face towards the end of this stage and that babies as young as 2 days orientates their gaze toward the source of a anxious-avoidant attachment exhibited in 20% of her sample, and anxious-resistant attachment – exhibited in 10% of her sample. Moreover the type of attachment appears to result in different behaviours.

The securely attached infants explore their environment and largely ignore the mother, apart from seeking comfort by looking towards them periodically, showing no distress towards strangers instead simply looking to the mother for reassurance when they enter the situation. However they do show distress when the mother leaves and immediately seek the mother for comfort when she returns upon which she is easily able to pacify the infant. The anxious-avoidant attached or detached infants appear to be disinterested in the mother or in exploring their environment. They show no distress towards strangers nor when the mother leaves, only showing distress when alone.

They show no response on the mothers return and as easily pacified by a stranger as the mother when distressed at being left alone. The anxious-resistant or insecurely attached appear quite anxious and are unlikely to explore their environment, preferring to stay close to the mother and appear very wary of strangers – even when the mother is present. When the mother leaves they become very distressed and on her return act very ambivalently in that they seek comfort from the mother but when she offers it they reject it.

Thus it would appear that the healthiest attachment type is a secure one. Indeed research has shown that securely attached infants are much more sociable than anxious-avoidant and -resistant attached infants (e.g. Pastor, 1981). Nevertheless this conclusion may well be erroneous for a number of reasons. Firstly Vaughn et al’s (1980) research has shown that attachment types exhibited can change if the circumstances of the caregiver change. Thus challenging the permanent nature of attachment type claimed by Ainsworth et al. Secondly because the use of the strange situation technique together with a controlled observation method of research may have resulted in behaviours that are not ecologically valid and therefore may not be representative of infants’ behaviour in real life settings.

Thirdly because cross cultural research has shown that the type of attachment reflects child rearing practices rather than whether the infant has a secure or insecure emotional relationship with their caregiver. For example research has shown that Japanese mothers are rarely if ever separated from their infants and such infants exhibit anxious resistant attachment behaviour. German mothers encourage their infants to be independent from a very early age and not to rely on them – such infants’ exhibit behaviour that implies that they have not formed an attachment but this is clearly not the case.

Research has shown that the type of attachment an infant initially makes is reflected in later emotional relationships. For example Landerville & Main (1981) found that infants securely attached at 12 months were much more likely to obey their mothers, co-operate with female strangers, were more curious and more sociable with peers at 21 months than infants who were not securely attached. Waters et al. (1979) found that the quality of infants’ attachments at 15 months was reflected in their behaviour at age 3½ years. In that infants securely attached at 15 months were social leaders in nursery settings often initiating play activities, were more sensitive to their peers needs and feelings, more curious and eager to learn, more self-directed and more popular with peers than insecurely attached infants were. Hazan & Shaver (1987) found that attachment styles experienced in childhood are reflected in adult emotional relationships.

Nevertheless, research has shown that these effects are not permanent, for example, Ross Thompson et al. (1982) found that securely attached infants can become insecurely attached if the attachment is disrupted (e.g. mother returns to work) or broken (e.g. divorce). Furthermore, Crockenberg (1981) found that changes in the caregivers circumstances (e.g. becomes less stressful) then an insecurely attached infant can become securely attached.

Thus, unlike diamonds, attachment types are not forever and any event that drastically alters the ways in which infant and caregiver respond to each other can have a significant effect on the quality of their emotional relationship.


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