Stages of Attachment


-In 1964 Schaffer and Emerson aimed to investigate the formation of early attachments

– In particular the age at which they developed, their emotional intensity and whom they were directed.


– 60 babies from Glasgow – the majority were from skilled working-class families were studied

– 31 male, 29 female babies

– The mothers and their babies were visited at home every month for the first year and again at 18 months.

– The researchers asked the mothers questions about the kind of protest their babies showed in seven everyday separations.

– This was designed to measure the infant’s attachment.

– The researchers also assessed stranger anxiety.


– Found that between 25 and 32 weeks of age 50% of the babies show signs of separation anxiety

– Attachment tended to be to the caregiver who was most interactive and sensitive to infant signals and facial expressions – and so this was not necessarily the person with whom the infant spent most time.

– By the age of 40 weeks 80% of the babies had a specific attachment and almost 30% displayed multiple attachments.



Good validity

-This study was carried out in the participants own homes and most of the observation was done by parents during ordinary activities and reported to researchers later.

-This means that the behaviour of the babies was unlikely to be affected by the presence of observers.

– This means that the infants behaved naturally when observed

-Therefore, the study has good external validity.

High internal validity

-The study was carried out longitudinally which means that the same children were followed-up and observed regularly.

 -Longitudinal designs have better internal validity than cross-sectional designs because: they do not have the confounding variable of individual differences between participants.

– This shows that Schaffer and Emerson’s study has high internal validity


Not generalisable

-The fact that all of the families involved were from the same district and social class in the same city and at a time over 50 years ago is a limitation.

– They used a small sample size from only one area and one class type

– Child-rearing practices vary from one culture to another and one historical period to another.

– These results do not necessarily generalise well to other social and historical contexts.

– Therefore, this study’s findings cannot be generalised to the public as it lacks population validity


– Schaffer and Emerson based their stages of attachment on the information that they gathered from their longitudinal study


ASOCIAL STAGE (first few weeks)

– The baby begins to recognise and form bonds with its carers.

– However, the baby’s behaviour towards non-human objects and humans is quite similar.

– Babies show some preference for familiar adults in that those individuals find it easier to calm them.

– Babies are also happier when in the presence of other humans.



– Babies display more observable social behaviour.

– They show a preference for people rather than inanimate objects, and recognise and prefer familiar adults.

– At this stage babies usually accept cuddles and comfort from any adult, and they do not usually show separation or stranger anxiety.

– Their attachment behaviour is therefore said to be indiscriminate because it is not different towards any one person.


SPECIFIC ATTACHMENT (from around 7 months)

– The majority of babies start to display anxiety towards strangers and to become anxious when separated from one particular adult.

– At this point the baby is said to have formed a specific attachment.

– This adult is termed the primary attachment figure and is not necessarily the person the child spends the most time with but the one who offers the most interaction and responds to the baby’s signals with the most skill.



– Shortly after babies start to show attachment behaviour towards one adult they usually extend this attachment behaviour to multiple attachments with other adults with whom they regularly spend time.

– These relationships are called secondary attachments.

– In Schaffer and Emerson’s study, 29% of the children had secondary attachments within a month of forming a primary specific attachment.

– By the age of about one year the majority of infants had developed multiple attachments.



Cultural Variations

– There are important differences between cultures in terms of the way people relate to each other.

– In individualistic cultures (UK, USA ect) each person in the society is primarily concerned with their own needs or the needs of their immediate family group.

– In contrast, collectivist cultures are more focused on the needs of the group rather than individuals, with people sharing many things, such as possessions and childcare.

–  We should we would expect multiple attachments to be more common in collectivist societies.

– Additionally compared to attachment in infants raising communal environment with infants raise in family-based sleeping arrangements.

– In a Kibbutz children spend their time in a community children’s home, this includes night-time.

– Closeness of attachment with mothers was almost twice as common in family based arrangement when in the communal environment.

– This suggests that the stage model applies to only individualistic cultures

– Therefore this the stages of attachment cannot be applied to other cultures as it’s not generalisable

Conflicting evidence on multiple attachments

– Some research seems to indicate that most if not all babies form attachments to a single main carer before they become capable of developing multiple attachments (Bowlby 1969).

– Other psychologists, in particular ones who work in those cultural contexts where multiple carers are the norm, believe babies form multiple attachments from the beginning

– Such cultures are called collectivist, because families work together jointly in everything – such as producing food and child rearing. 

Biased Research

– The sample was biased in a number of ways.

– First, it was only conducted on a working class population and thus the findings may apply to that social group and not others.

– Second, the sample was from the 1960s.

– Parental care of children has changed considerably since that time.

– More women go out to work so many children are cared for outside the home, or father stay at home and become the main carer.

– Research shows that the number of Dad’s who choose to stay at home and care for their children and families has quadrupled in the past 25 years.

– If a similar study to that of Shaffer and Emerson’s was conducted today, the findings would be different.

– Therefore this study lacks temporal validity.