Different Types of Attachment and Socio-emotional Development Throughout the Lifespan

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An infant requires a stable establishment of relational trust that is nourished by positive emotional and social connections with a primary caregiver (e.g., father, mother, or grandparent, etc.). Attachment types, such as the healthiest secure attachment style, determine the socio-emotional development and how someone manages social relationships across the lifespan. Differences in parenting and resulting attachment styles need to be put into cultural perspective. Secure attachment at any age can be promoted to support individuals in the achievement of their full potential of well-being and personal growth.

Building trust between child and the caregiver

John Bowlby’s theory of attachment is based on biology and is also studied in animal research [1]. It follows a cross-culturally valid evolutionary explanation [2] from the perspective that whole-organism interactions in early human development between the infant and the primary caregiver are imperative for survival [3]. Erik Erikson’s social development theory builds on the same premise of an infant requiring a stable establishment of relational trust. Erikson emphasizes that emotional and social connections, rather than biological ones, matter most [4]. Bowlby focused only on the importance of mothers in the child-caregiver dyad, while opponents like Harlow flagged already around the mid of the last century that anybody else (e.g., fathers, grandparents, or sisters) could provide the necessary care for secure attachment development too [5].

Attachment types priming for relationships throughout lifespan

According to Mary Ainsworth’s research rooting in the 1960s, there are three different qualities of attachment: secure, insecure-avoidant, and insecure-resistant [4]. Secure attachment tends to lead to successful stress management and relationships, and insecure attachment style risks to result in rather maladaptive behavior and relationships [6]. Infants’ emotions also originate from social interactions rather than only from within [4]. Feeling secure is a precondition for confidence as the basis for independent exploration [7]. Such socio-emotional development determines how somebody becomes emotionally primed even from a neuro circuitry development point of view as measured with fMRI analysis, i.e., how someone is inclined to seek for and respond to social relationships across the lifespan [8].

Parenting styles and cultural context

The promotion of the perception of self-worth is preventive of mental, emotional, and behavioral problems [9]. In Western contexts, authoritative (demanding and responsive) parents seem to be best able to support children’s development towards culturally favored behavior [4].  Differences in parenting and resulting attachment styles need to be put into cultural perspective. For example, a child’s shy behavior in an Eastern context where more authoritarian parents are the norm, wouldn’t necessarily mean attachment “avoidance” as it would be the case in the West [10]. Psychological control and dis-involvement in parenting cause child relational aggression [11]. Parents with insecure attachment more likely show negative parenting behavior [12]. Care-providers’, as well as society’s considerate support of an individual’s coherent body image, is especially important as body esteem influences the overall self-evaluation significantly throughout the life stages [13].

Different attachment symbols and effects on well-being and personal growth

Attachment security represents the main factor predicting subjective well-being in a US and European adult sample, while for the Mozambican study participants it was passionate love [14]. Satisfaction for women primarily depends on interpersonal interaction, compared to a more intra-personal focus of males [15]. Relationship attachment can also apply to places [16] and celebrities [17].  God is an attachment symbol that often becomes especially important for the socio-emotional life of older people [18]. All these benefits of secure attachment suggest that the promotion of it should be used for effective support of individuals of any age to achieve their full potential of well-being and personal growth [7].

Photo credit: Holgi (pixabay.com)


[1] Amos, J., Segal, L., & Cantor, C. (2015). Entrapped Mother, Entrapped Child: Agonic Mode, Hierarchy and Appeasement in Intergenerational Abuse and Neglect. Journal Of Child & Family Studies, 24(5), 1442-1450. doi:10.1007/s10826-014-9950-3

[2] Posada, G., Lu, T., Trumbell, J., Kaloustian, G., Trudel, M., Plata, S. J., & … Lay, K. (2013). Is the Secure Base Phenomenon Evident Here, There, and Anywhere? A Cross-Cultural Study of Child Behavior and Experts’ Definitions. Child Development, 84(6-), 1896-1905.

[3] Maunder, R. G., & Hunter, J. J. (2008). Attachment Relationships as Determinants of Physical Health. Journal Of The American Academy Of Psychoanalysis & Dynamic Psychiatry, 36(1), 11.

[4] Arnett, J. J. (2012). Human development: A cultural approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

[5] Vicedo, M. (2010). The evolution of Harry Harlow: from the nature to the nurture of love. History Of Psychiatry, 21(82 Pt 2), 190-205.

[6] Mathews, S., Onwumere, J., Bissoli, S., Ruggeri, M., Kuipers, E., & Valmaggia, L. (2016). Measuring attachment and parental bonding in psychosis and its clinical implications. Epidemiology And Psychiatric Sciences, 25(2), 142-149. doi:10.1017/S2045796014000730

[7] Feeney, B., & Van Vleet, M. (2010). Growing through attachment: The interplay of attachment and exploration in adulthood. Journal Of Social And Personal Relationships, 27(2), 226-234.

[8] Lee, S., Walker, Z. M., Hale, J. B., & Chen, S. A. (2017). Research report: Frontal-subcortical circuitry in social attachment and relationships: A cross-secvbtional fMRI ALE meta-analysis. Behavioural Brain Research, 325(Part B), 117-130. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2017.02.032

[9] Joseph A., D., Allison B., D., Rebecca D., T., Roger P., W., & Kriston B., S. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, (1), 405. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01564.x

[10] Newland, L. A., Coyl, D. D., & Chen, H. (2010). Fathering and Attachment in the USA and Taiwan: Contextual Predictors and Child Outcomes. Early Child Development And Care, 180(1-2), 173-191.

[11] Kawabata, Y., Alink, L. R., Tseng, W., van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Crick, N. R. (2011). Maternal and paternal parenting styles associated with relational aggression in children and adolescents: A conceptual analysis and meta-analytic review. Developmental Review, 31240-278. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2011.08.001

[12] Bifulco, A., Moran, P., Jacobs, C., & Bunn, A. (2009). Problem partners and parenting: Exploring linkages with maternal insecure attachment style and adolescent offspring internalizing disorder. Attachment & Human Development, 11(1), 69-85. doi:10.1080/14616730802500826

[13] Knafo, H. (2016). The Development of Body Image in School-Aged Girls: A Review of the Literature from Sociocultural, Social Learning Theory, Psychoanalytic, and Attachment Theory Perspectives. New School Psychology Bulletin, 13(2), 1-16.

[14] Galinha, I. C., Oishi, S., Pereira, C. R., Wirtz, D., & Esteves, F. (2014). Adult Attachment, Love Styles, Relationship Experiences and Subjective Well-Being: Cross-Cultural and Gender Comparison between Americans, Portuguese, and Mozambicans. Social Indicators Research, 119(2), 823-852.

[15] Deitz, S., Anderson, J., Johnson, M., Hardy, N., Zheng, F., & Liu, W. (2015). Young romance in China: Effects of family, attachment, relationship confidence, and problem solving. Personal Relationships, 22(2), 243-258.

[16] Rubinstein, G., Tziner, A., & Bilig, M. (2012). Attachment, Relationship Quality and Stressful Life Events: A Theoretical Meta-Perspective and Some Preliminary Results. Revista De Psicologia Del Trabajo Y De Las Organizaciones, 28(3), 151-156.

[17] Stever, G. S. (2011). Fan behavior and lifespan development theory: Explaining para-social and social attachment to celebrities. Journal Of Adult Development, 18(1), 1-7. doi:10.1007/s10804-010-9100-0

[18] Homan, K. (2014). Symbolic Attachment Security and Eudemonic Well-Being in Older Adults. Journal Of Adult Development, 21(2), 89-95. doi:10.1007/s10804-013-9182-6 doi:http://dx.doi.org.liverpool.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s11205-013-0512-7

About mathias sager

Thinking and writing for happiness, painting colorfully, and enabling personal growth for all. Fostering co-operative and humanitarian principles, economic and social equality, as well as environmental sustainability. Using broad international experience and progressive, egalitarian and global outlook to promote care for the next generation.
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3 Responses to Different Types of Attachment and Socio-emotional Development Throughout the Lifespan

  1. Lots of real points here. And at the base of it all is a child’s need for love to become a healthy adult.

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