Secure Attachment: The Research
Is "Attachment Parenting" a science? Yes, actually.
Decades of research, including longitudinal studies, shows that as securely attached babies get older, they form better relationships with others, have higher self esteem, are more flexible and resilient under stress, and perform better in every aspect of life, from schoolwork to peer interactions.
All this research started with the fascinating discovery that babies respond in particular predictable ways to “The Strange Situation,” a lab protocol involving a brief but stressful separation from the mother at the age of 12 months.
The "Strange Situation" uses a simple protocol involving a brief separation and reunion in a situation that is strange to the child. Researchers classify 12 month olds as:
1. Secure – These babies protest the parent’s departure and are easily comforted by the parent when he or she returns. These babies, referred to as Securely attached, turn out to have better relationships with the parent to whom they’re securely attached, but that’s not all. As they develop, these children are ranked as better adjusted in virtually every way, including interpersonally and academically.
2. Resistant/ambivalent - These babies protest the parent’s departure but reject comfort from the parent upon his or her return. They have learned that their parent is not always dependable in meeting their needs and find it hard to be comforted by the parent.
As they mature, these children stay focused on seeking the reassurance of relationships, but because of their anger and neediness they tend to create unfulfilling involvements. Their focus on the search for love keeps them from appropriately attending to other age-appropriate developmental tasks, such as learning and experimenting with independence. These children often become over-involved with peers in an attempt to fill unmet attachment needs.
3. Avoidant - These babies may not protest the parent’s departure and they do not seek comfort upon the parent’s return. These toddlers do not express age-appropriate comfort needs, apparently because they assume those needs will not be met in the relationship. But when we hook these babies up to physiological monitors, we notice that their hearts are racing. They're showing signs of extreme stress from the separation -- and yet they're hiding that stress, clearly having learned that it's more adaptive to hide their feelings.
Although they seem more independent in this laboratory situation, they are no more independent at home or in school, and in fact are rated by daycare teachers as more whiny and demanding than other babies the same age.
As they grow older, these children find their emotional needs overwhelming and frightening, and thus repress them. Unless they have the opportunity to experience therapy or another transformational love relationship, they may not develop much capacity for intimacy. While they may succeed in school and sports, their lack of social skills often limits their happiness and even their career success.