Desribe and evaluate the influence of childhod experiences on adult relationships According to John Bowlby’s theory of attachment – specifically the concept of the internal working model, later relationships are likely to be a continuation of early attachment types (secure/insecure) because the behaviour of infants promotes an internal working model or schema which leads to the infant expecting the same in later relationships. For example, someone with an avoidant attachment type is more likely to hold the view that sex without love is pleasurable.
This can be supported by the work of Mary Ainsworth on the ‘strange situation. ’ Where children are put into situations both with and without their mother and observed on criteria such as; willingness to explore, stranger anxiety, separation anxiety and reunian behaviour. They found evidence of these three attachment types; secure, insecure-avoidant, and insecure-resistant. And suggested that these attachement types would have an effect of later relationships.
However, there are elements of this study that lack ecological vadility as a result of social desirability bias.
The parents in the study may act different towards their children under observation that they would in a natural environment, and as a result there may be some level of bias in the results. Furthermore, Hazan and Shaver conducted a study called the ‘love quiz’ using a selection of volunteers. They were given 2 questionnaires, one to determine their early relationships with parents, the second their later, adult romantic attachments.
They found a strong correlation between relationships at a young age and relationships later on in life.
For example, the divorce percentage in securely attached participants was only 6% – half of the percentage of divorce with insecurely attached participants. However, as well as the clear social desirability bias as people will look to sounds good, perhaps rather than answering truthfully. There is also an issue as the study relies heavily of retrospective data.
The participants are asked to recall events that occurred years prior to the study, and, as a result there may be issues with reliability. In an ongoing longitudinal study spanning over 25 years involving 78 participants, Simpson et al. studied participants at four key stages; infancy, early childhood, adolenscence and adulthood, and recording on sociability and relationships throughout their lives. It was found that there is a huge link between relationships at an early age and those later on in life.
For example, a securely attached child was found to have higher social competance ages 6-8, thus leading to them being closer to their friends aged 16, and in turn leading to these people having better relationships with their partners in early adulthood. While it would appear tha there was rich data as the study was ongoing for 25 years, only 78 people were researched on over this time, so in fact the data cannot be generalised to the entire population as it only studies limited participants.
As well as this, much like the other studies, Simpson’s is extremely deterministic. Not all people are the same and some may have varied relationships from a young age and in later life. For example, as a child, a person may have a secure attachment, but during early adulthood their partner may cheat on them – thus destroying every positive view they had on relationships and lead to them finding it hard to form a trusting relationshipagain.
It must be taken into account that there are extraneous variable throughout life that could affect this theory, as well as the fact that simply, people are all different. This can be seen through Rutter who suggested that even if someone has a difficult childhood, they can go on to achieve happy relationships in the future, because postive things in later life such as good school experiences may allow them to trust people again. However, Feeney and Noller suggested that, in fact, relationship styles can vary in adulthood because partners have an impact on our relationship.
For example, with one partner you can be extremely happy and feel it is successful, on the other hand, with another, you may feel that you don’t trust them and that it is not an enjoyable experience. This suggests that attachment styles aren’t always stable and consistant and that experiences throughout life can effect it. This lack of stability can be supported by Kirkpatrick and Hazan who found that relationship break ups were associated with a shift from secure to insecure attachment.
Research has suggested that autonomy is most healthy when accompanied by continuing warm and close relationships with parents – known as ‘connectedness’ by Coleman and Hendry in 1999. This can be supported by Larson who conducted a study using pagers to find out what 10-18 year olds were doing at random times in the day. The amount of time with family decreased during adolescence, however time spent with each individual parent stayed relatively consistant, suggesting that adolescent relationships supplement rather than replace parent-child relationships.
It could be suggested that rather than it all being down to the initial caregives, the child’s temperament may play a vital role in the attachment type. This has been suggested by Kagan, for example, if a child is securely attached, this will have a positive effect on later relationships, and vice versa with difficult babies. As a result of this, it must be considered that our ability to form good quality relationships may be partially innate as it is clearly much easier for a happy, outgoing person to form a relationship than a negative moody individual.