Analysis of the Attachement Issues in Children Using the Attachement Theory

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The basis of attachment theory stemmed from conceptualizations varying from information processing, developmental psychology, and many more. John Bowlby formulated the theory, but Mary Ainsworth made it possible to test different methodologies to gain a better understanding of how the infant if effected when separated or deprived of their mother.

Through tested methodologies, Ainsworth concluded theories of the roles of maternal sensitivity, creation of a safe environment for an infant to develop, and the attachment between a mother and her child during their early stages of development. Freud heavily influenced Bowlby’s rationale for his study, but several experiments and research such as the Harlow experiments and Erik Erison’s research that provided a substructure to Bowlby’s research where it supported it through a different perspective on attachment theory.

The Harlow experiment consisted of infant monkeys being detached from their mothers at birth and infant monkeys detached at birth but placed with “surrogate” mothers, one created with wiring and the other created from cloth. Those who were raised with no mother exhibited unusual behavior such as rocking uncontrollably, but when brought back to their mothers, there was a sense of fear and aggression but also a lack of communication with other monkeys (Suomi, Van der Horst, & Van der Veer, 2008).

In Erikson’s research, he emphasized society and culture during the development of children which then entailed with eight stages of psychosocial development: infancy (trust vs. mistrust), early childhood (autonomy vs. shame), preschool years (initiative vs. guilt), school age (competence vs. inferiority), adolescence (identity vs. role confusion), young adulthood (intimacy vs. isolation), middle adulthood (generativity vs. stagnation), and late adulthood (ego integrity vs despair) (Weiland, 1993). Although attachment theory can apply to any point during one’s life, in a criminal justice aspect of psychology, it’s important to focus on the fundamental development during childhood based on attachment theory and how aggression can stem from separation or deprivation of a mother figure.

The attachment theory is defined as “ignoring biological vulnerabilities other than those rooted in the caregiver’s behavior and as reducing etiological considerations to a single variable: that of physical separation” (Fonagy, 2001). There are many theories that are needed for attachment to form: Secondary Drive, which is the child’s physiological needs being met and receive a sense of gratification from the caregiver; Primary Object Sucking, which is the infant’s need to relate to the mother and her breast; Primary Object Clinging, which is the infants need to touch and cling onto a human being; and Primary Return-to-Womb Craving, which is when infants seek to return into their mother’s womb. All these sub theories to the attachment theory are crucial for understanding the supportive ideas behind how children actually become attached to their mother and Bowlby took those ideas and created criterions of characteristics in order to sustain attachment.

The seven characteristics are learning, organization, specificity, level of engagement with emotions, duration, biological functions, and the course of development. To better define these characteristics: infants learn cues and ways of interaction between others based on their behavior; the cognitive development is organized to help the infant mature; infants are specific and have their preferred attachments; attachment can also have an emotional aspect of devotion; the length of time that attachment can occur; the survival instincts of the infant, which are biological functions allow the being to create different attachments with people as they develop; and through the course of the infant’s development, they form the most crucial bond with their mother through the gratifications they receive by feeding and keeping warm (Bowlby, 1958).

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There are four stages in total for Bowlby’s attachment theory, but in the case of infants there are three: stranger anxiety, separation anxiety, and social referencing. But these attachments develop during the course of their development and also disappear as the infant build’s new attachments. During the asocial stage, which is from zero to six weeks, social and non-social stimuli produce reactions such as a smile. As they develop during six weeks to seven months, indiscriminate attachments form where they infants begin to recognize faces and become comfortable but show distress when interaction seizes. Specific attachment during seven to nine months, the infant shows a preferred attachment to their mother and have separation anxiety when they are not around their mother as well as stranger fear.

Lastly when infants are ten months and older, they begin to form multiple attachments since they are becoming more independent and receive sensitive responsiveness from certain figures (McLeod, 2009). The quality of attachment during imperative development, nature vs. nurture is what sets the infant up for either success or failure. In a study conducted by Rutter, Dun, Plomin, and Simonoff there were two groups in the same age range where one group was raised in a group home because of a dysfunctional family and the other group was raised in an institutionalized home. In these dysfunctional families, the children were exposed to early physical abuse which resulted in a higher risk of aggression later on in life.

The results from the study concluded that the adolescence raised in the institutionalized home were also at higher risk to commit crimes. “Individuals differ in their reactivity to the environment… behavior inhibition is… behavioral responsivity to stressful situations… (such as) the individual processes associated with family disruption” (Rutter, Dunn, Plomin, & Simonoff, 1997). This study emphasized the importance of development, environment, and genetics in behavior throughout adolescence and adulthood that can either lead the being into aggression and crime or detour them away from that lifestyle. Basing attachment theory on actual offenders and essential for steering children into the right direction, quality care that responds to the child to relieve anxiety and feeling understood. In one of Bowlby’s many studies on attachment theory, his sample of 47 offenders concluded the lack of attachment during early development which resulted in affectionless psychopathy, lack of concern or empathy for others.

The Cambridge Delinquency Study, where 411 males born in south London exemplified distinct differences from the group that were not offenders. The offenders exhibited antisocial behavior, hyperactivity, attention deficits, and impulsivity as children, but also most likely had convicted offenders in their family based on their economic standing. This is where dysfunctional families and attachment come into play where the offenders received physical discipline, lack of supervision, and witnessed caregivers arguing which in turn effected the child’s development. Since sociability, independence, and lack of behavioral problems demonstrate a healthy attachment though the development, the child is more likely to experience playing and forming new attachments/relationships with other children instead of feeling insecure about their strategies to create attachments (Ansbro, 2008).

Another study was conducted by Buttell, Muldoon, and Carney where there were two groups of men, batterers and nonbatterers. Interpersonal Dependency Inventory, which measures the interpersonal dependency through a self-report instrument was used as a measure for this study. The bases of interpersonal dependency were the thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors of the men. The results concluded the majority of the men sampled which was 61%, were within that one standard deviation of 50 on the interpersonal dependency inventory, but these results do not support that batterers display interpersonal dependency in their relationships. Although, attachment issues are considered an impactful component on the actual act of battering (Buttell, Muldoon, & Carney, 2005).

There are ways that attachment through childhood can be improved by the caregivers, but for those that lacked the proper attachment and have committed a crime, they can be rehabilitated through probation. Renn discussed the process of the offender’s rehabilitation through probation and the links between the pattern of insecurity and attachment based on childhood trauma. The process began with the offender identifying and recognizing his thoughts and the crime committed to being unsound in society no matter the circumstances. As the offender established a sense of understanding from Renn, the offender spoke about a traumatic event during his childhood of losing his best friend when he was eight. The offender held guilt and forever blaming himself for the death of his best friend and then being separated from his family, which may have posed a higher risk of committing a crime in the future as well as the sense of alienation and detachment in relationships.

As the sessions continued, there was an improved sense of trust even though throughout adolescence and adulthood he lacked trust because of the lack of control, dependence on substances, separation, and loss (Renn, 2002). Although the offender was surprised that he was talking about personal traumatic events in his past to Renn, the act of directly challenging traumatic thoughts and feelings worked during rehabilitation for the offender. In most cases, probation and rehabilitation where the offender must commit to bettering themselves to stay out of prison.

To recognize the emotional states of the offender can exemplify the lack of the recognition of their emotions from their caregivers, which entails the likelihood of disassociation in later attachments/relationships. It’s important to analyze and evaluate offenders who may have dealt with a lack of attachment during the developmental stages and aide them through rehabilitation or probation to get a sense of where the aggression and mentality of committing crimes stem from.

Although there may be influences that ca be controlled such as taking the child out of dysfunctional households, the first year of development is crucial for forming bonds with others and having senses of security. If the child is surrounded by physical abuse and maltreatment, they will not understand that those aspects will have negative impacts on future life with forming bonds as well as everyday sanity.

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