Schaffer and Emerson – 4 stages of Attachment in infants

Stages of attachment

Schaffer and Emerson were interested in the concept of attachment and hypothesised that human infant’s bonding periods take much longer than animals. They believed it could take up to 7 or 8 months for the bonding process to occur. Their study follows:

Date: 1964

Hypothesis: Infants develop bonds with their care-givers and this bond becomes stronger over a period of time.

Null Hypothesis: Infants have the bond with their care-giver from the moment they are born and time does not cause this bond to become stronger or weaker.

Type of experiment: Field Observation

I.V: How long they spend with their mother before they are tested.

D.V: How the parents say they reacted in a strange situation on the scale set up by Schaffer and Emerson.

Sample: The sample was 60 babies from a working class area of Glasgow.

Issues with the sample: Although no issues with the sample are brought up in great objection, it is obvious that the fact they were only from working class and located in the same city that this could have influenced the results and caused them to have low population validity and generalisability.

Procedure: The babies are not manipulated in any way by the researchers and are left to grow up as they would if the researchers were not there. Schaffer and Emerson use interview and observation to see how their attachments are becoming stronger through time. They measure the 2 behaviours of “Seperation anxiety” and “Stranger distress”. A method of this was done by approaching the child and trying to engage them in play or conversation.

Observations: They found that the attachment not only developed depending on time but corresponded to the infant’s age. The infants went through 4 stages detailed later.

Findings: As stated earlier the infants reached 4 different stages of attachment dependent of their age. These are listed below.

Ecological Validity: This experiment was a field observation and took place in the less stressful environment of their own home so the ecological validity was high.

Internal and External Validity: The internal validity of this research is believed to be high however many people may say that the extended time period, and the fact it was a field observation, meant that many confounding variables could be present and have influenced the results. The external validity is high as the sample was human however questions could be asked about the sampling technique and how it may have left the experiment with a limited sample.

Reliability: Many experiments have been done, usually observations, that replicate the results of Schaffer and Emerson. This means that the reliability is high.

Generalisability:  The sample is limited to one city and one social class so many people question the generalisabiltity. However, for the time the sample was representative of the population.

The 4 stages outlined by Schaffer and Emerson are outlined here:

Asocial stage:

This is usually up to 6 weeks of age. The will usually form attachments with any human. Despite not having a bias to a particular human it is often seen that they prefer human like stimuli (e.g. Dolls) This was observed by Schaffer and Emerson when they approached the infant and it responded as it would with anyone.

Indiscriminate attachment:

This is usually 6 weeks to 6 months. Babies become more “sociable”. They can tell people apart and so begin to form stronger attachments however these do not progress much until the next stage. At this stage, Schaffer and Emerson found that they did not show a fear of strangers.

Specific attachment:

Usually 7 months onward. The key things about this stage are that the infant begins to show separation anxiety and “protests”, usually by crying, when their primary attachment figure leaves. The second key behaviour is that they begin to show fear of strangers.

Multiple Attachments:

10-11 months onwards. The infant begins to make make multiple attachments. This is usually towards friends, grandparents and childminders/ nursery staff.

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