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The consequences of infant attachment

Read this article about different types of infant attachment security; secure, insecure and disorganised.
© The University of Warwick

In this section of the course we have been examining infant attachment security. There are now a number of longitudinal studies in which parents and babies have been followed up over extended periods of time (until 40 years of age), exploring the impact of attachment security on long-term well-being. This research shows that children who are securely attached have better outcomes compared with children who are insecurely attached. Furthermore, disorganised attachment is associated with a range of serious long-term problems. This evidence is summarised below:

Secure attachment

The Minnesota Study is the most well known longitudinal study of attachment and has followed up children from birth for over 30 years. This study found that children who were securely attached had more optimal global level functioning across all domains including scholastic achievement, emotional, social and behavioural adjustment, as well as peer-rated social status.

Insecure attachment

The Minnesota Study also showed that children who were insecurely attached functioned less optimally across all developmental domains. For example, insecurely attached children were more reliant on teachers and rated by teachers as being more dependent; they were less likely to show evidence of persistence and flexibility in the face of difficulties, and more likely to deal with social problems using frustration behaviour, aggression or giving up; they also showed signs of less social competence in terms of skills in engagement and interactions with others, and popularity.

A review of a large number of studies that had assessed insecure attachment in adults found an ongoing impact across the lifespan with evidence that it can interfere with peer relations, intimacy, caregiving and caretaking, sexual functioning, conflict resolution, and increased relational aggression in adults.

Disorganised attachment

Disorganised attachment has the most significant consequences in terms of a child’s long-term development. One study followed up children who were disorganised at the age of one when they were six years old and found that compared with children who were not disorganised, these young children showed evidence of controlling behaviours toward the parent; avoidance of the parent; dissociative symptoms; behavioural/oppositional problems; emotional disconnection; aggression toward peers; and low social competence in preschool.

A number of reviews that have summarised the findings of lots of studies have confirmed this. For example, one such systematic review found that across all studies, disorganised attachment was associated with significant psychopathology in childhood and later.

© The University of Warwick
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