Cultural Variations in Attachment

– The Strange Situation procedure has had a profound impact within psychology

– The procedure has been used in a variety of cultural settings to identify whether patterns of attachments appear to be universal or are subject to cultural influences.

– However, child rearing techniques vary across cultures

– Cultural variations are the way that different groups of people vary in terms of their social practices and the effects these practices have on development and behaviour


– One of the most commonly cited cross-cultural studies which uses the Strange Situation procedure was conducted by Van Ijzendoorn & Kroonenberg’s in 1988.


– They conducted a meta-analysis examined 32 studies of attachment behaviour

– Altogether they studied 2000 Strange Situation classifications

– They summarised findings from 8 countries – UK, US, Sweden, Japan, China, Holland, Germany & Israel.


– They found that the differences between countries were small

– Average findings were consistent with Ainsworth’s original research

– Secure 65%, Avoidant 21%, Resistant 14%

– Secure attachment was the most common classification in ever country

– Insecure attachment was the next most common (except japan and israel – collectivist cultures)

– Variation within cultures was nearly 15 times greater than the cross-cultural variations.

    – Ijzendoorn speculated that this was linked to differences in socio-economic factors.

– 6/8 countries produced findings that were proportionally consistent with Ainsworth & Bell (70).

– Chinese findings revealed the lowest rate of secure attachments (50%) with the remaining children falling into the other categories equally.

– It was concluded that the modest cross-cultural differences reflect the effects of mass media, which portrays similar notions of parenting.


– Simonella conducted a study in Italy to see whether the proportions of babies of different attachment types still matches those found in previous studies.

– The researchers assessed 76 12 month-old babies using the strange situation.


They found that 50% were secure and 36% insecure-avoidant.

– This is a lower rate of secure attachment than has been found in many studies.

– The researchers suggest this is because increasing numbers of mothers of very young children work long hours and use professional childcare.

– These findings suggest that cultural changes can make a dramatic difference to patterns of secure and insecure attachment

JIN (2012)

Jin et al conducted a study in Korea to compare the proportions of child attachment types in Korea to other studies.

– The strange situation was used to assess 87 children.


– The overall portions of insecure and secure babies were similar to those in most countries, with most infants be insecure.

– However, more of those classified as insecurely attached were resistant and only one child with avoidant.

– This distribution is similar to the distribution of attachment types founded Japan.

– Since Japan and Korea have quite similar child-rearing styles this is this similarity might be explained in terms of child rearing Style.


– Secure attachment seems to be the norm in a wide range of Cultures, supporting bowlby’s idea that attachment is innate and universal

– However, the research also clearly shows that cultural practices have an influence on attachment type so it can’t all be innate



Large Samples

– A strength of combining the results of attachment studies carried out in different countries is that you can end up with a very large sample.

– For example, in the meta-analysis there was a total of nearly 2000 babies and their primary attachment figures.

– Even studies like those of Simonella and Jin had large comparison groups from previous research, although their own sample sizes were smaller.

– This overall sample size is a strength because large sample size increase internal validity by reducing the impact of anomalous research caused by bad methodology or unusual participants

– Therefore, a large sample size from different countries means that these results are more generalisable to the general population as they are more representative.


Culture Bias

– These pieces of research are seen to have culture bias.

– It isn’t just the methods used in attachment research that are not relevant to other cultures, but also the theory because it is so rooted in American culture.

– Rothbaum et al looked in particular at the contrast between American and Japanese culture.

– Bowlby and Ainsworth proposed that infants who are more securely attached go on to develop more socially and emotionally competent children and adults.

– However, this competence is defined in terms of individualisation, being able to explore, being dependent and able to regulate one’s own emotions. I

– In Japan the opposite is true, competence is represented by the inhibition of emotional expression and being group oriented rather than self-oriented.

– Therefore, the high levels of insecure resistant attachment found in Japanese culture during may be explained by cultural bias in attachment theory.

– Additionally these studies are ethnocentric as they judge another culture based on the standard of one’s own culture

Overall findings are misleading 

– They used a disproportionately high number of studies that were conducted in the USA (18/32)

– The overall findings would have been distorted by these.

– This means that the apparent consistency between cultures might not genuinely reflect how much attachment types vary between cultures.