Carleton University The Attachment Debate Blog OPEN Blog #7 The Attachment Debate: How important is early attachment to later relationships? The blog will

Carleton University The Attachment Debate Blog OPEN Blog #7 The Attachment Debate: How important is early attachment to later relationships?

The blog will be open from Monday Nov 11 at 8:35am until Sunday Nov 24 at 11:55pm.

Minimum 250 words.

Relationships provide a fundamental context for development across the lifespan. This includes relationships with parents, siblings, peers, romantic partners, spouses and children. Recently researchers have begun questioning the early work on attachment by Bowlby and Ainsworth and are suggesting that attachment experiences in infancy may not have as large an influence on later relationships (especially adult relationship) as previously thought. This is very interesting to me as I am currently conducting research on attachment relationships and use of cyberbullying within romantic relationships. Have a look and see what you think. I will be interested in your evidence-based thinking.

Consider the three issues raised by Kagan. Please address each of these in your blog.

1. What is the best way to think about attachment relationships?

2. How do we measure the nature of attachment relationships?

3. Finally, does the relationship established in the first year influence the child’s future personality and their adult relationships?

Kagan, J. (2013). The Attachment Debate: An infant’s attachment is not a determinant of the future. Psychology Today,

Guldbery, H. (2013). We Are Not Determined by Early Experiences: The claim that human beings are set in stone by the age of three is groundless. Psychology Today.

Brogaard, B (2015) Attachment Styles Can’t Change, Can They?: Oh yes they can Psychology Today.

Haiman, P. (2012). Why early attachment matters for childhood and beyond.

Research Article:

Doyle, C. & Cicchetti, D (2017). From the Cradle to the Grave: The Effect of Adverse Caregiving Environments on Attachment and Relationships Throughout the Lifespan, Clinical Psychology, 24(2), 203–217. doi:10.1111/cpsp.12192. HHS Public Access
Author manuscript
Author Manuscript
Clin Psychol (New York). Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 June 01.
Published in final edited form as:
Clin Psychol (New York). 2017 June ; 24(2): 203–217. doi:10.1111/cpsp.12192.
From the Cradle to the Grave: The Effect of Adverse Caregiving
Environments on Attachment and Relationships Throughout the
Colleen Doyle and Dante Cicchetti
Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota
Author Manuscript
Author Manuscript
This paper reviews research examining the effects of adverse early caregiving on relationships
throughout the lifespan. Central attachment constructs are summarized and integrated into a
review of research on the long-term effects of institutional rearing and child maltreatment.
Findings are interpreted within the organizational perspective on development, which
conceptualizes attachment as a stage-salient task of infancy that influences the reorganization of
adaptive/maladaptive functioning around subsequent stage-salient tasks. Children who experience
adverse early caregiving are more likely to exhibit aberrant attachment behaviors, deficits in
social-emotional competencies, and persisting difficulties in social functioning and relationship
outcomes. Disorganized attachment behavior stemming from adverse early caregiving has been a
major focus of this work. Intervention efforts that target mental representations related to
attachment relationships can facilitate improved social functioning. Clinical implications of this
work are discussed.
attachment; caregiving; institutional care; maltreatment; relationships; Randomized Control Trial
(RCTs) interventions
Author Manuscript
Relationships provide a fundamental context for development across the lifespan. These
relationships include those with parents, early care and education providers, peers, and
romantic partners. Because early caregiving experiences critically shape brain and behavior
development, children who experience absent or abusive caregiving are denied opportunities
for healthy development. Instead, adverse caregiving environments can set into motion a
probabilistic developmental pathway that is characterized by increased risk for maladaptive
behavior and relationship disadvantage across the lifespan.
This paper reviews a growing literature examining the association among childhood
adversity, attachment disruptions, and relationships in childhood, adolescence, and
adulthood. We focus on two types of childhood adversity: institutional rearing and child
maltreatment. First, we review attachment theory, the central conceptual framework guiding
Please address correspondence and reprint requests to: Colleen Doyle or Dante Cicchetti, Institute of Child Development, University
of Minnesota, 51 E. River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455 contact: or
Doyle and Cicchetti
Page 2
Author Manuscript
Author Manuscript
work in this area. Next, we summarize recent empirical research and intervention efforts
applying attachment constructs to the study of developmental pathways and phenomena
linking extreme, pathogenic caregiving environments to social functioning and relationship
outcomes later in life. Finally, we discuss the clinical implications of these findings, as well
as promising directions for future work. Our approach is informed by an organizational
perspective on development (Cicchetti & Toth, 2015; Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson, & Collins,
2005), which conceptualizes development as a series of functional reorganizations around
stage-salient tasks. Importantly, from this perspective, the meaning of social behaviors, and
not merely their occurrence, is informative. Additionally, an organizational perspective
considers how stage-salient tasks may provide an opportunity for growth, resilience, and
recovery, in addition to vulnerability. For these reasons, this perspective has important
clinical value for researchers examining processes and pathways linking adverse early
caregiving to long-term social functioning. Assessing what has been learned from this
research is important, as an understanding of how childhood adversity influences attachment
and relationships across the lifespan has broad implications for clinicians, researchers,
policy makers, and the public at large.
Central Tenets of Attachment Theory
Author Manuscript
According to attachment theory, early caregiving experiences influence adaptation and
maladaptation across the lifespan by organizing individual and relational developmental
processes “from the cradle to the grave” (Bowlby, 1969/1982; p. 208). This conceptual
framework has advanced our understanding of normal and abnormal development by
generating testable hypotheses about the developmental processes and pathways linking
early caregiving experiences to long-term outcomes. The central assumption of attachment
theory is that relationships function to increase survival. Attachment theory contends that
infants are biologically predisposed to bond with caregivers, signal for their protection and
care, and seek proximity to those who can provide safety and support. From early interaction
patterns with caregivers, infants are thought to develop an internal working model of
attachment, or a set of mental representations of the self, the caregiver, and the world
(Sherman, Rice, & Cassidy, 2015). These internal working models operate across the
lifespan to promote survival by guiding the individual’s expectations and explorations of the
social and physical environment.
Author Manuscript
In addition to promoting survival, attachment relationships can propel infants along
developmental pathways of adaptation or maladaptation. Ainsworth and colleagues (1978)
generated significant interest in this area by bringing attention to the individual differences
in the infant-caregiver attachment relationship (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978).
Considerable research shows that a caregiver’s behavior toward the child is the key
determinant of the attachment relationship and the child’s internal working model (de Wolff
& van IJzendoorn, 1997), and that both the caregiver’s behavior and the child’s internal
working model subsequently influence the child’s social and emotional development (e.g.,
Sroufe, 2005). Specifically, caregivers can promote a secure attachment relationship when
they are available, sensitive to a child’s needs, and responsive to a child’s cues. Children who
are securely attached learn they can rely on the caregiver for protection, and consequently
these children perceive themselves as worthy of receiving care and love, and relationships as
Clin Psychol (New York). Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 June 01.
Doyle and Cicchetti
Page 3
Author Manuscript
safe and worth pursuing. In contrast, caregivers who are unavailable, low in sensitivity, or
inconsistently or inappropriately responsive to a child’s needs promote an insecure
attachment relationship. These children may develop ambivalent expectations about their
own self-worth and view relationships as hurtful, rejecting, or unsafe. Thus, early caregiving
experiences can initiate cascading and reciprocal effects among attachment relationships,
social development, and social adaptation over the lifespan. Importantly, research shows that
secure vs. insecure attachment relationships cannot be explained by genetic factors,
implying a process of environmental transmission via parent-child social interactions.
Author Manuscript
Author Manuscript
The profound and persisting effects of early caregiving on social functioning can be
understood from the organizational perspective on development (see Figure 1). This
perspective conceptualizes development as a series of functional reorganizations around
stage-salient tasks. Importantly, the organizational perspective on development holds that the
meaning of a behavior, not merely its occurrence, must be considered. For example,
disengaging from a social conflict may be adaptive or maladaptive, depending on the social
situation. Accordingly, this perspective can offer clinical insights on relationship outcomes
linked to adverse caregiving, rather than only reporting incidence rates. Additionally, by
focusing on the meaning of behavior, this perspective brings attention to the functions and
context sensitivity of underlying behavioral and biological systems that organize attachment
and relational behavior at each stage of development. Thus, this perspective considers
mechanisms and mediators of early child adversity at multiple levels of analyses: biological,
cognitive, behavioral, and social. Finally, the organizational perspective on development
considers how each stage-salient task involves opportunities for growth, recovery, resilience,
the consolidation of functional skills, as well as challenges that may open windows of
vulnerability. However, overall adaptation across the lifespan is depicted as cumulative and
hierarchical, such that successful resolution of an early stage-salient task increases the
likelihood of subsequent successful task resolution. Thus, an organizational perspective on
development is needed to comprehend the continuity and discontinuity of attachment and
relational behaviors within the context of developmental changes, as well as the opportunity
for resilience following early adverse experiences.
Author Manuscript
The literature provides strong support for the cumulative and hierarchical depiction of social
adaption/maladaption across development following differences in early caregiving
experiences (see Groh et al., 2014). Specifically, research shows that stage-salient
attachment behaviors of infancy, such as smiling, clinging, and checking back with a
caregiver, are associated with the successful resolution of subsequent relational stage-salient
tasks, such as exploring peer interactions, interpreting social cues of peers, and establishing
secure peer relationships. Longitudinal studies, more frequently existing with study samples
experiencing typically occurring variations in early caregiving experiences, show that social
and emotional competency in childhood feed forward over time to facilitate successful
resolution of stage-salient tasks related to adolescent and adult peer and romantic
relationships, such as establishing positive self-esteem and developing conflict resolution
skills (see Grossmann, Grossmann, & Waters, 2006). It should be noted that the
organizational perspective on development is inherent to the approach of many attachment
researchers, though it may not be explicitly acknowledged.
Clin Psychol (New York). Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 June 01.
Doyle and Cicchetti
Page 4
Author Manuscript
Early Adversity and Attachment Disturbances in Childhood
Adverse caregiving environments, such as those characterized by neglect, deprivation, or
abuse, can be viewed as extreme, pathogenic forms of insensitive caregiving within the
continuum of caretaking casualty (see Sameroff & Chandler, 1975). These adverse
environments deviate from typical caregiving environments such that infants experience the
absence of necessary input, as well as exposure to adverse input. In institutional settings,
caregiving generally is non-individualized, routine, and cursory, rather than affectionate,
sensitive and responsive (van IJzendoorn et al., 2011). Similarly, children who experience
maltreatment are exposed to social-emotional deprivation and/or abuse. As a result, children
who experience institutional care or maltreatment are denied vital opportunities to form
healthy attachments, resulting in behavior presenting as attachment disturbances and
disorders, and difficulties establishing peer relationships.
Author Manuscript
Author Manuscript
Disorganized attachment, comprised of fearful, conflicted, and disoriented behaviors, has
been a primary focus of empirical and clinical work on attachment disturbances related to
these two forms of adverse early caregiving. Numerous independent studies have shown that
frightening or unpredictable caregiver behavior (e.g., verbally or physically intrusive or
hostile behavior), as opposed to insensitive behavior (e.g., missing or ignoring child’s cues or
emotions) promotes disorganized child attachment behaviors (e.g., freezing, hitting the
parent, or contradictory behavior like running up and then pulling away) (see Lyons-Ruth &
Jacobvitz, 2008). Accordingly, disorganized behaviors are thought to reflect the absence or
breakdown of children’s relational strategies for dealing with threat, and suggest that
children do not have the opportunity to learn effective self-soothing or self-regulation skills.
From an organizational perspective of development, the proposed meaning of these
behaviors has important implications for the sequelae of early adverse caregiving. Metaanalyses suggest that approximately 15% of infants in normative samples exhibit
disorganized attachment behavior; in contrast, the prevalence rate is two to three times
higher among infants who have experienced institutional rearing (Lionetti, Pastore, &
Barone, 2015; van den Dries, Juffer, van IJzendoorn, & Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2009) and
up to 80-90% in child maltreatment samples (see Cicchetti & Toth, 2015; Cyr, Euser,
Bakermans-Kranenburg, & van IJzendoorn, 2010). These analyses suggest that children who
experience institutional care or maltreatment have a relatively equivalent chance of
developing an insecure or disorganized attachment, and a relatively minor chance of
developing a secure attachment.
Author Manuscript
Extreme, pathogenic caregiving environments also are associated with two attachment
disorders: reactive attachment disorder (RAD), an emotionally withdrawn/inhibited pattern
of behavior, and disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED), an indiscriminately
social/disinhibited pattern of behavior (see Zeanah & Gleason, 2015). Importantly,
disorganized attachment is conceptualized as reflecting a state of distorted attachment, while
attachment disorders are conceptualized as reflecting “non-attachment.” While the majority
of children who experience institutional rearing and maltreatment exhibit insecure or
disorganized attachments, and may show symptoms of RAD or DSED, most do not meet
criteria for these disorders (Zeanah et al., 2015). Recent research shows RAD and DSED
Clin Psychol (New York). Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 June 01.
Doyle and Cicchetti
Page 5
Author Manuscript
both arise from inadequate caregiving environments characterized by social neglect, and
have distinct presentations, correlates, and response to intervention.
Author Manuscript
The core features of RAD include a general absence of attachment behaviors, including
failure to seek and respond to comfort from a caregiver when distressed, as well as reduced
social and emotional reciprocity with a caregiver. RAD is uncommon, and is estimated to
occur in approximately 10% of children who experience inadequate caregiving (American
Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). Notably, RAD symptoms are greater in children who
have experienced more severe social neglect, and dissipate rapidly after intervention efforts
provide children the opportunity to form selective attachments with nurturing foster or
adoptive parents (Zeanah et al., 2015). In contrast, the core features of DSED include a
general absence of developmentally appropriate reticence around unfamiliar adults, and a
failure to check in and maintain proximity with caregivers. Importantly, children who meet
criteria for DSED may exhibit disinhibited behavior with strangers and show typical
attachment behaviors with primary caregivers. Approximately 20% of children who have
experienced social neglect meet criteria for DSED (APA, 2013). Numerous adoption studies
show DSED symptoms are associated with length of time in institutional care, persist after
intervention, and are not associated with the quality of caregiving in foster or adoptive
homes (Zeanah et al., 2015).
Author Manuscript
Although post-institutionalized (PI) children show remarkable recovery after they are placed
in nurturing families, there is considerable variability in developmental outcomes. As a
group, PI children exhibit delays and deficits in identifying and interpreting emotions,
perspective taking, understanding and observing social boundaries, and regulating emotions
(Gunnar & Quevedo, 2007). From an organization perspective of development, failure to
resolve these stage-salient tasks put PI children at increased risk for persisting social
competency deficits and relationship difficulties. Overall, research shows social problems
are positively correlated with age at adoption, with variability related to type of social
outcome and severity of early deprivation (Zeanah, Gunnar, McCall, Kreppner, & Fox,
2011). Interestingly, children adopted before turning one years old exhibit attachment
security with adoptive parents that is comparable to non-adopted peers; in contrast, adoption
after 12 months is associated with increased risk for insecure, disorganized, and atypical
attachment patterns (van den Dries et al., 2009). Recent research shows that nearly all PI
infants, regardless of age at adoption, form some kind of attachment with adoptive parents
by 9 months post-placement (Carlson, Hostinar, Mliner, & Gunnar, 2014). These findings
speak to the robust capacity for human attachment.
Author Manuscript
Consistent with an organizational perspective on development, research shows the negative
relational patterns acquired in a maltreating early caregiving environment become
incorporated into the child’s mental representations of self, others, and the social world,
which are relevant for later peer relations (Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). Accordingly,
maltreatment may lead to negative expectations of the self and others, as well as the concept
of relationships as involving victimization and coercion. Through these disturbances in
representational models, the negative effects of early maltreatment can be carried forward to
later stage-salient developmental tasks, such as establishing peer relationships. This
conceptualization of continuity in relational functioning is supported by a large body of
Clin Psychol (New York). Author manuscript; available in PMC 2018 June 01.
Doyle and Cicchetti
Page 6
Author Manuscript
research showing maltreatment is associated with later peer difficulties in childhood and
adolescence (see Riggs, 2010).
Author Manuscript
In comparison to their peers, children who have experienced maltreatment are more likely to
actively withdraw from social interactions and display more aggressive behavior when they
do interact (Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). This conflicted pattern of both “flight” and “fight”
interaction with peers is consistent with research showing that maltreatment is associated
with disorganized attachment behavior. It suggests children who have experienced
maltreatment may operate from a disorganized representational model that includes elements
of both victim and victimizer (Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). Accordingly, research shows that
maltreated children are more likely than nonmaltreated children to bully other children and
more likely to be victimized by their peers (Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). Additionally, child
maltreatment, particularly child sexual abuse, has been associated with age-inappropriate
sexualized behavior in children (Trickett, Noll, & Putnam, 2011). Maltreatment also places
children at risk for being rejected and victimized by their peers. Research shows that the
continuation of maltreatment is associated with repeated (as opposed to transitory) peer
rejection, and that aggression largely accounts for the association between maltreatment and
peer rejection (Bolger & Patterson, 2001). Moreover, genetically informed twin designs
show that early experiences of malt…
Purchase answer to see full

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.