A Thematic Analysis in Support of the Theory That Early Relationships Affect Adult Attachment Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 26 October 2016

A Thematic Analysis in Support of the Theory That Early Relationships Affect Adult Attachment

This study was a qualitative thematic analysis to see if there was any evidence in early relationships that then affects the adult attachment theory. The qualitative textual analysis was carried out on a pre-existing, edited, filmed semi-structured interview. The thematic analysis showed that there is some truth in the adult attachment theory but life experiences and circumstances also have an effect on the individual. Furthermore relationships can play an important part in our lives with some evidence showing that Bowlby’s theory has some validity, (as cited in Cooper and Roth 2007, p37).


A thematic analysis is historically a practice in qualitative research, which involves searching through data to identify patterns and themes. A theme is linked to categories, conveying similar meanings. This popular technique can be enhanced by the analyst lacking previous knowledge of the research topic, so they are not guided by any preconceptions. Furthermore, the analyst does not have to be an expert in the research topic. However, in order to begin analysis a researcher must have at least some understanding to guide the insightful processes. There is no simple distinction between qualitative and quantitative methods. Since analysts move back and forth between new concepts and the data, all research involves processes of induction and deduction, especially thematic analysis whereby induction creates themes and deduction verifies them. Thematic analysis is also part of everyday life and in order to maintain a sense of the world, we constantly arrange incoming information, into themes with the use of our existing experiences. (as cited in Cooper and Roth 2007, p21).

A central issue in developmental psychology is whether our experiences during childhood in some way shape the patterns of our later adult relationships. John Bowlby, who was a key figure, in the development of the attachment theory, began his work on this theory in the 1940’s,.Children have a drive to feel secure by forming an emotional bond with a primary giver (as cited in Cooper and Roth 2007, p28). Meaning that Bowlby’s idea, was that children develop, secure attachments, which are important in later life. Furthermore, Bowlby drew the ideas of critical and sensitive periods in development, believing that the establishment of a healthy internal working model is essential for future relationships, social behaviour and mental health, (as cited in Cooper and Roth 2007, p28).

Charles Darwin, was one of the first major influences on development and suggests that changes occur in people and their behaviour because they serve a new and adaptive function, with the idea that the attachment theory is functional because the bound between carer and child needs to be strong so the child becomes socially confident, ( as cited in Cooper and Roth, 2007, p51).

Moreover, Mary Ainsworth spent many years working with Bowlby at a clinic in London, where she built upon his ideas. She mainly researched the effects of maternal deprivation. The results from this research led Bowldy to believe that he had found the main reason for juvenile delinquency, with the lack or non-existent mothering. 1954 Ainsworth went to Africa and moved the attachment theory forward through her observations of 28 mothers and the off spring in Uganda. Having kept in touch with Bowlby she reported that she had identified three different types of attachment, with an experiment called “ the strange situation” which was carried out in an observation laboratory with video cameras recording the behaviour of mothers and their infants showing a sequence of separations and reunions involving a child the mother and a stranger.

The first type attachment, type A, (insecure,, anxious avoidant), where the attachment has a troubled attachment to the caregiver. Often turning away, from the caregiver, after being reunited, after a separation. Type B, (secure), where the image of the caregiver is seen as a secure base showing pleasure at the reunion, with lastly Type C,(insecure, anxious, ambivalent), where the attachment is likely to show distress suggesting that the caregivers presence is important ( as cited in Cooper and Roth, 2007, p31).

Judith Rich Harris (1999) In the Nurture Assumption argues that parents do not actually influence their children, which have been assumed, but that it is peer groups that are a major influence in how children grow up. However there have been many theories that suggests that vertical relationships during childhood also have an equally significant impact on how we develop, (as cited in Cooper and Roth, 2007, p31).

There is some support for parts of the theory, now seeing that infant attachment is related to adult attachment in certain conditions, (as cited in Cooper and Roth, 2007, p35). Furthermore relationships can play an important part in our lives with some evidence showing that Bowlby’s theory has some validity. Life events though are also deemed to be important, as found in another study (Hamilton, 1994) with the results showing that children where their family circumstances were stable became secure and the ones that had experienced major changes in their family circumstances became insecure, (as cited in Cooper and Roth, 2007, p34). Therefore this thematic analysis will review.(Exploring Psychology DVD), and support of Bowlby’s idea that early relationships affect adult attachment


The researcher, a psychology student at The Open University analysed existing material (semi structured interview) comprising of a DVD and transcript supplied by the Open University, with each line numbered in sequential order from the beginning to the end (appendix 1). The method was selected because it enabled the researcher to explore reality from the participant’s interview.

The participant (Chloe a 50 year old academic who is currently retraining to be a therapist, was married and divorced in her twenties and she and her current partner plan to marry this year. She has no children) was provided by The Open University, which gained consent from the participant to use the interview material for the purpose of the research. The participant was properly briefed and debriefed and offered the right to withdraw from the research at any time with the research either sent back to the participant or destroyed.

The participant was interviewed by a lady psychologist of a similar age, in the participant’s home. With one successful interview and a telephone call explaining what the research was about and the focus being early relationships and how they kind of shaped us and how they shape relationships with people once we are adults.

Compression, labelling and narrative structuring techniques were used in a thematic analysis of the interview with Chloe- referring to the DVD and transcript. Giving three themes that I identified the first being Caring, the 2nd being disappointment and lastly insecure.


In reviewing the transcript, while also taking into the account of the question, in support of Bowlby’s idea that early relationships affect adult attachment? Three themes were identified that can also relate to the above question. Caring/ parenting, disappointment, and insecure.

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