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Caregiver Sensitivity
Hypothesis vs Temperament
Hypothesis

According to Mary Ainsworth (1974), the type and quality of attachment between mother and child is largely dependent on the mother’s behaviour towards the child.  She suggested that mothers of securely attached infants tended to be more sensitive to the child’s needs - more responsive, more co-operative and more accessible than mothers of either of the anxious types. These mothers provide a warm and close physical contact, especially when the infant is distressed. Ainsworth’s concept is called the Caregiver Sensitivity Hypothesis.


Ainsworth proposed that the caregivers of anxious-resistant infants were interested in them but misunderstood the infant’s behaviour. Of particular importance, these caregivers tended to be inconsistent in the way they treated their children. As a result, the infant is unable to rely on the caregiver’s emotional support.


Ainsworth reported that caregivers of anxious-avoidant infants were often impatient and/or uninterested, often rejecting them and tending to be self-centred and rigid in their behaviour. However, some caregivers of avoidant infants acted in a suffocating way, interacting with their infants even when the infants did not want any interaction.


A powerful comment on the impact of the mother’s state on the formation of attachments came from D M Teti, D M Gelfand, D S Messinger & R Isabella (1995) who showed a significant association between maternal Depression and infant attachment insecurity. They found that children without coherent attachment strategies tended to have more chronically impaired mothers than did securely-attached children.


In a 1989 study of neglected and badly-treated infants V Carlson, D Cicchetti, D Barnett & K Braunwald found that about 80% of them matched Type D disorganised criteria. They concluded that the highly-stressful and inconsistent regime in an abusive home may interfere with the organisation of an effective attachment system.


Michael Lamb, Ross Thompson, William Gardner & Eric Charnov (1985) surveyed research across the United States and came to the view that sensitive and responsive mothering does indeed lead to secure attachment. Alan Sroufe & June Fleeson (1986) argued that the common factor in the lives of securely-attached infants seems to be the contingent responsiveness of the parents to the infant’s needs.


Mary Main, Nancy Kaplan & Jude Cassidy (1985) explored the relationship between the mother’s behaviour and type of attachment and found that mothers who themselves had had satisfactory attachment experiences would be more likely to foster secure attachments in their own children.


Using a procedure known as the Adult Attachment Interview, Main, Kaplan & Cassidy classified parents according to their recollections of their own attachment experiences. Autonomous (secure) adults, who discussed their own childhood experiences openly, were more likely to have children identified as securely attached in a Strange Situation. Dismissing and pre-occupied adults, however, tended to have children identified as insecure in the Strange Situation.


According to Main, Kaplan & Cassidy, a mother’s own experiences affects how she interacts with her child and the type of relationship established between the mother-child pair. This can be linked to John Bowlby’s concept of the internal working model.


                                                                                                  The Temperament Hypothesis

An alternative explanation for the correlation between early attachment types and later development is the Temperament Hypothesis of Jerome Kagan (1984). Kagan argued that this can be explained by the infant’s innate temperament.  J J Campos, K C Barrett, M E Lambe, H H Goldsmith & C Sternberg (1983)  point out that differences in maternal behaviour may be due in part to the characteristics of the child. Effectively, some people are born good at forming relationships and some aren’t.a mother may appear to be insensitive because her child is unresponsive.


Infants can be even-tempered or irritable, responsive or withdrawn, active or inactive, soothed easily or with difficulty. Alexander Thomas & Stella Chess, in a 1977 longitudinal study of 138 infants in New York City, classified 40% of the infants as having ‘easy’ temperaments, 10% were ‘difficult’, 15% ‘slow to warm up’ and 35% were ‘mixed’. Earlier, Thomas, Chess &  Herbert Birch (1970), in a study of 141 children from birth to 14 years, had shown that temperamental categorisations assigned shortly after birth sustained by and large throughout their childhood. Since many aspects of temperament are evident during the first weeks of life and continue into adulthood, Thomas & Chess assumed they are largely inborn or innate.


Kagan’s views built on the earlier work of E E Maccoby (1980) who argued that ‘normal’ infants tend to take the initiative in inviting a maternal response but others do not. Thus, responsive mothers may be at least partly a consequence of the child’s characteristics - ie: a mother may become insensitive because her child is unresponsive.


An interesting bit of evidence to support the Temperament Hypothesis came from a study in Japan by Kazuo Miyake, S J Chen & Campos (1985) which found that newborn babies who became upset when their feeding was interrupted were more likely to be classified as insecurely attached at 12 months.


Jay Belsky & Michael Rovine (1987) gave some support to the Temperament Hypothesis in reporting that newborns who showing signs of behavioural instability - eg: tremors or shaking or being startled easily -  tended to be less securely attached to their mother. They also tended to fall into certain sub-types associated with distress in the Strange Situation.


Kagan also argued that the Caregiver Sensitivity Hypothesis placed too much emphasis on the role played by the caregiver in the development of attachment and ignored the part played by the infant’s temperament.


However, Kevin Durkin (1995) has pointed out that infants’ temperament, as assessed by their parents, is not usually associated with their attachment type, as determined by the Strange Situation. Earlier B E Vaughn, G B Lefever, R Seifer & P Barglow (1989) had come to a similar conclusion.


                                                                                                           The Bigger Picture

Belsky & Rovine postulated that it is the interaction between relationship (caregiver sensitivity) and temperament which influences the development of attachment. Certainly Gottfried Spangler (1990), in a study of German mothers, found that their perceptions of their infant’s temperament influenced their responsiveness.


Changes in family circumstances - such as the mother taking a job outside the home - can also affect the development and stability of attachment types. Ross Thompson, Michael Lamb & David Estes (1982) found 47% of middle-class mothers and infants in their sample changed their type of attachment relationship between


12 and 19 months due to changes in family circumstances. According to sociologists Michael Haralambos & Martin Holborn (2000), changes such as unemployment, illness and marital break-up are more common in low income families. Vaughn, Byron Egeland, Sroufe & Everett Waters (1979) studied low income single single parent mother-infant pairs living in poverty and experiencing frequent changes of accommodation. At 12 months 55% were classified as securely attached, with the rest being evenly distributed between anxious-avoidant and anxious-resistant. At 18 months 66% were securely attached. 38%, however, were classified differently on the 2 occasions and these appeared to be related to changes in the family’s circumstances. Eg: those who had gone from secure to insecure attachments had the most stressed mothers while those who had gone from insecure to secure or who were anxious on both occasions had mothers with an intermediate amount of stress.


Belsky (1984) criticised Ainsworth’s ideas for overemphasising the importance of the mother’s sensitivity and neglecting wider influences which influence the attachment process, as per the graphic.