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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Du Plessis

The impact of attachment on infant competencies

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

Decades of research indicate that the quality of the early attachment bond between a primary caregiver and their child is a significant precursor to whether the child will experience relational success or difficulties in later life. Even John Bowlby (the father of attachment theory) posited that the attachment style a baby develops in early childhood will be used as a framework for how they approach other relationships in their life. But is this completely true?

The impact of severe neglect

In some rare cases of severe neglect, babies that were socially deprived showed a lack of an attachment response at all. This resulted in a delay in the maturation of their brains due to lack of stimulation. This is referred to as Reactive Attachment Disorder and was most prevalent in children who happened to be under institutionalised care, (thus why it is also called institutionalisation syndrome). The effects of this syndrome lasted well into the adolescent years, having a negative impact on the intellectual development of these individuals.

It can be argued that the presence of Reactive Attachment Disorder is a clear indication that lack of care is related to social and cognitive difficulties. However, it is also important to recognise that Bolwby and colleagues’ predictions that early relational difficulties and attachment would impact the infant for the rest of their life is not completely true. Rather, it has been proven that attachment styles can change throughout an individual’s lifetime and is dependent on various circumstances.

Previous attachment theorists also placed huge emphasis and responsibility on the competencies of the caregiver whilst neglecting the role of the baby’s temperament, their physical environment and cultural context. It has been noted that even “perfect parenting” may not necessarily result in a secure attachment. Although there is lots of evidence to substantiate these theories, attachment is a highly complex and dynamic phenomenon influenced by many different factors.

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