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Discuss research into the influence of early attachment on adult relationships

Many attachment psychologists argue that early relationships with our primary caregivers have an effect on later relationships. The continuity hypothesis is the idea that there is consistency between early emotional experiences and later relationships, and it sees children’s attachment types being reflected in these later relationships. This idea is based upon the internal working model, which was proposed by Bowlby in his monotropic theory.

Bowlby sees attachment as monotropic, where infants have an innate tendency to form an attachment to one particular person. This attachment is the strongest of them all, forming a model for future relationships, which the infant will expect from others. This is the idea of the internal working model; a template for future relationships based upon the infant’s primary attachment, which creates a consistency between early emotional experiences and later relationships.

There are several attachment types that a child can develop in infancy. Ainsworth divided these into secure, insecure avoidant and insecure resistant, when working on her ‘Strange Situation’ research. Based on Bowlby’s predictions and research ideas of Ainsworth, Hazan and Shaver created a ‘love quiz’ experiment to explore the idea that there is continuity between early attachment types and the quality of later adult romantic relationships.

They conducted a study to collect information of participant’s early attachment types and their attitudes towards loving relationships. Of the volunteer sample, they found that those who were securely attached as infants tended to have long lasting relationships, on the other hand, insecurely attached people found adult relationships more difficult, tended to divorce, and believed love was rare. This supports the idea that childhood experiences have significant impacts on people’s attitude towards later relationships. The correlation between adult’s attachment style and their memories of parenting style they received is similar to Ainsworth’s findings, where children’s attachment styles were correlated with the degree of sensitivity shown by their mothers.

However, this theory has been accused of being reductionist because it assumes that people who are insecurely attached as children will become insecurely attached as adults and have poor quality adult relationships. As well as this, attachment types identified in the Strange Situation and used in Hazan and Shaver’s study relate only to the quality of relationship with one person. Therefore, an adult’s choice of description to their attachment style might only relate to their current relationships.

An alternative explanation for continuity in relationships is the temperament hypothesis, founded by Kagan. He found that infants have an innate personality, such as being easy going or difficult, which influences the quality of their attachment with caregivers and in later relationships. This suggests that attachments form as a result of temperament and not an innate gene for attachment; which goes against Bowlby’s theory. This also suggests that attempts to develop better quality relationships by changing people’s attachment styles to more positive ones would not work.

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