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Is 'assessment' the key to understanding attachment?

Research

Is 'assessment' the key to understanding attachment?

Assessment is essential to prove that any theory is working according to a clearly defined set of rules. Many fathers believe that because their attachment relationship to their child or children is so special that when they go to family court any assessment is bound to be made in favour of a 'shared parenting' order. But 'assessment' is not the silver bullet many parents expect.

In 'The Nature of the Child's Tie To the Mother' (1958) John Bowlby, explained what he meant by 'attachment behaviour'.

The hypothesis which I am advancing incorporates the theories of Primary Object Sucking and Primary Object Clinging. It postulates that the attachment behaviour which we observe so readily in a baby of 12 months old is made up of a number of component instinctual responses which are at first relatively independent of each other. The instinctual responses mature at different times during the first year of life and develop at different rates; they serve the function of binding the child to mother and contribute to the reciprocal dynamic of binding mother to child. Those which I believe we can identify at present are sucking, clinging, and following, in all of which the baby is the principal active partner, and crying and smiling in which his behaviour serves to activate maternal behaviour. (By following I mean the tendency not to let mother out of sight or earshot, which is readily observed in human infants during the latter one-half of their first year and throughout their second and third years of life and in the young of other species sometimes almost from birth.) Whereas sucking is closely related to food-intake and crying may be so, the remaining three are non-oral in character and not directly related to food. In the normal course of development they become integrated and focused on ma single mother figure: as such they form the basis of what I shall call attachment behaviour.(The Nature of the Child's Tie To the Mother by John Bowlby, 1958).

We may extend the analogy. It is in the nature of our constitution, as of all others, that sovereignty is vested in a single person. A hierarchy of substitutes is permissible but at the head stands a particular individual. The same is true of the infant. Quite early, by a process of learning, he comes to centre his instinctual responses not only on a human figure but on a particular human figure. Good mothering from any kind woman ceases to satisfy him only his own mother will do.(The Nature of the Child's Tie To the Mother by John Bowlby, 1958).

Naturally such a general statement needs amplification and qualification, but the tendency for instinctual responses to be directed towards a particular individual or group of individuals and not promiscuously towards many is one which I believe to be so important and so neglected that it deserves a special term. I propose to call it monotropy, a term which, it should be noted, is descriptive only and carries with it no pretensions to causal explanation.(The Nature of the Child's Tie To the Mother by John Bowlby, 1958).


An important step in proving a theory or hypothesis is the assessment or measurement to show that it works. In Bowlby's approach, the human infant is considered to have a need for a secure relationship with adult caregivers, without which normal social and emotional development will not occur. As the toddler grows, it uses its attachment figure or figures as a 'secure base' from which to explore. Mary Ainsworth used this feature plus 'stranger wariness' and reunion behaviours, other features of attachment behaviour, to develop a research tool called the Strange Situation Procedure SSP for developing and classifying different attachment styles. Originally it was devised to enable children to be classified into the attachment styles known as secure, anxious-avoidant and anxious-ambivalent. As research accumulated and atypical patterns of attachment became more apparent it was further developed by Main and Solomon in 1986 and 1990 to include the new category of disorganized/disoriented attachment.(Ainsworth. Mary D. (1978) Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates).

In this procedure the child is observed playing for 20 minutes while caregivers and strangers enter and leave the room, recreating the flow of the familiar and unfamiliar presence in most children's lives. The situation varies in stressfulness and the child's responses are observed. The child experiences the following situations:

1.Mother (or other familiar caregiver) and baby enter room.
2.Mother sits quietly on a chair, responding if the infant seeks attention.
3.A stranger enters, talks to the mother then gradually approaches infant with a toy. The mother leaves the room.
4.The stranger leaves the infant playing unless he/she is inactive and then tries to interest the infant in toys. If the infant becomes distressed this episode is ended.
5.Mother enters and waits to see how the infant greets her. The stranger leaves quietly and the mother waits until the baby settles, and then she leaves again.
6.The infant is alone. This episode is curtailed if the infant appears to be distressed.
7.The stranger comes back and repeats episode 3.
8.The mother returns and the stranger goes. Reunion behaviour is noted and then the situation is ended.

However Professor Sir Michael Rutter described the limitations of the procedure in the following terms;

It is by no means free of limitations (see Lamb, Thompson, Gardener, Charnov & Estes, 1984) To begin with, it is very dependent on brief separations and reunions having the same meaning for all children. This maybe a major constraint when applying the procedure in cultures, such as that in Japan (see Miyake et al.,, 1985), where infants are rarely separated from their mothers in ordinary circumstances. Also, because older children have a cognitive capacity to maintain relationships when the older person is not present, separation may not provide the same stress for them. Modified procedures based on the Strange Situation have been developed for older preschool children (see Belsky et al., 1994; Greenberg et al., 1990) but it is much more dubious whether the same approach can be used in middle childhood. Also, despite its manifest strengths, the procedure is based on just 20 minutes of behaviour. It can be scarcely expected to tap all the relevant qualities of a child's attachment relationships. Q-sort procedures based on much longer naturalistic observations in the home, and interviews with the mothers have developed in order to extend the data base (see Vaughn & Waters, 1990) . A further constraint is that the coding procedure results in discrete categories rather than continuously distributed dimensions. Not only is this likely to provide boundary problems, but also it is not at all obvious that discrete categories best represent the concepts that are inherent in attachment security. It seems much more likely that infants vary in their degree of security and there is need for a measurement systems that can quantify individual variation".(The Clinical Implications of Attachment Concepts". 1997. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 36 (4): 552553)
Bowlby described Rutter as his 'erstwhile critic'. In his paper for the Emanuel Miller Lecture 2009 Rutter again outlines the limitations of the assessment procedure,

The SSP has come to constitute what is generally accepted to be the gold standard measure of security in early life. It is noteworthy that, in all ordinary situations, a substantial proportion of infants (about one-third) do not display a secure attachment to their caregiver. Accordingly, everyone accepts that, in itself, insecurity is not an indication of disorder or even of maladjustment. A key proposition in the formulation of the concept of attachment security is that its development should be associated with parental sensitivity. In the event, although individual differences in security show a modest positive association (a correlation of .24) with parental sensitivity, most of the variance is not accounted for by this parental feature (De Wolff & van IJzendoorn, 1997). Attachment security does seem to be associated with the qualities of the parent child relationship but the qualities are not adequately encompassed by the concept of sensitivity. Atkinson and colleagues (2000) noted that the effect size of the impact of their measure of maternal stress/sensitivity on attachment security diminished with increasing time separating their measurement. Also, only modest to moderate temporal stability in security/insecurity has been found within the infancy/toddler age period (see Solomon & George, 2008). Insecure attachment has been widely found to be associated with an increased likelihood of psychopathology in childhood. However, the association is weak and well below the level at which it might be clinically useful. (Emanuel Miller Lecture: Attachment insecurity, disinhibited attachment, and attachment disorders: where do research findings leave the concepts? 2009)
Research has led Rutter to conclude that, 'Despite the evidence on anomalous attachment patterns, there has been a tendency to interpret most of these as reflecting differences in security / insecurity.
It is seriously misleading to view all of these patterns through the lens of security / insecurity.
In other words he still continues to dispute Bowlby's view of child development and broadens his criticism to include any assessment of attachment based on his criteria.

Rutter made his reputation from challenging Bowlby's view of attachment in his seminal work called 'Maternal Deprivation Reassessed'.

i. Investigations have demonstrated the importance of a child's relationship with people other than his mother.
ii. Most important of all there has been repeated findings that many children are not damaged by deprivation.
iii. The old issue of critical periods of development and the crucial importance of early years has been re-opened and re-examined. The evidence is unequivocal that experiences at all ages have an impact.
iv. It may be the first few years do have a special importance for bond formation and social development. (Maternal Deprivation; Reassessed, Second Edition, 1981, pp.217)
Rutter arrived at these conclusions after extensive research outlined in the paper, PARENT-CHILD SEPARATION: PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS on THE CHILDREN J. Child Psychol. Psychiat., Vol. 12, 1971, pp. 233 to 260. Pergamon Press.

His book is seminal not simply because he contradicted Bowlby but he also challenged the accepted sexist stereotypes of the day thus altering perceptions of the capacity of mothers and fathers. Today we talk about both parents as primary carers not because of the work of Bowlby but the contribution of Rutter.

On this forum Dr McIntoshes work is described in the following way,

Linear regression modelling is a method of statistical analysis used to determine the extent to which different variables contribute (or not) to the target variable.  It is used to determine whether other factors that are relevant to the analysis have contributed significantly to the outcome being observed or measured. In the study done by McIntosh and colleagues the variables of parenting style (warm vs hostile) co-parenting relationship (level of co-operation between parents) and demographics (sex, education level, employment and income) were also included and controlled for statistically to see whether any of them played a mediating or significantly contributing role. The results showed, that infants who were in shared care (i.e. one or more nights per week away from primary carer) demonstrated significantly more irritability (this does not mean just a few extra minutes of crying each day) and they were more vigilant about monitoring the whereabouts of their primary carer (instead of exploring their environment and playing which is what they should be doing). These results showed that the shared care arrangement made a unique and significant contribution to negative outcomes for the infant. Nothing at all surprising about that and that is what would be expected and is in line with other research on infant attachment.
In the same way Bowlby was stuck for proof that his hypothesis really worked and therefore relied on Mary Ainsworth and her Strange Situation Procedure SSP for 'evidence', Dr McIntosh  has relied upon 'multiple regression' to show that children are really damaged by separation to justify her  baby / infant guidelines. But, to put it mildly, the use of any statistical analysis to undermine the work of Rutter in this context is risible.

Attachment behaviour means different things to different people. It can vary across cultures. It can vary across communities. The meaning of attachment can even vary across individuals. In 'The Nature of the Child's Tie To the Mother' (1958) John Bowlby, explained what he meant by 'attachment behaviour'. Rutter has shown the serious limitations of any assessment according to this definition. 

I believe this conclusion is especially significant in the light of tragic events and I hope others will find this useful.

kip


NOTE; There is only limited access online to Rutter's seminal research called PARENT-CHILD SEPARATION: PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS on THE CHILDREN J. Child Psychol. Psychiat., Vol. 12, 1971, pp. 233 to 260. Pergamon Press. However I have produced two videos based on this research paper;

PARENTAL SEPARATION: Psychological effects on children - Professor Sir Michael Rutter

http://youtu.be/ncqQByhxJuI

PARENTAL CONFLICT: Psychological effects on children - Professor Sir Michael Rutter

http://youtu.be/3bkZdd3o-Z4

The first video from the interview with 'Dads on the Air' also describes the research background to Dr McIntoshes guidelines including 'The Nature of the Child's Tie to the Mother'

VIDEO - "Men Can't Nurse" say Australian Guidelines on contact for fathers from Dr Jennifer McIntosh - PART onE

http://youtu.be/WO2tC-TUsMs

Last edit: by Kip


Kingsley Miller is the author of 'even Toddlers Need Fathers', a critique of the principle of 'Maternal Deprivation' as applied in family courts, which Professor Sir Michael Rutter described as an, 'interesting and informative guide'. He has also received a letter from Buckingham Palace stating, 'It was thoughtful of you to enclose a copy of your book 'even Toddlers Need Fathers' and Her Majesty has noted your concerns'.
Bruce Smyth (who worked with McIntosh) has publicly urged people to use caution about applying their general research findings to individual cases. At least he seems to aware of and is willing to admit some limitations of his own study.
Frenzy, that was a point made in the study itself.  It was mentioned that the research findings were not relevent to every case, and that sometimes frequent overnight care was warranted and that for some cases no face to face contact with the other parent should be considered at all.  This is a quote from the study (p.157)

"Given the nature of the general population data used in this study, these group findings will not be relevant to outlying cases and circumstances. We return to the phrase all else being well. For example, more frequent overnight care may arguably be in an infants best interests when it is essential for the primary parents physical or mental health. By contrast, where children have experienced or are likely to be exposed to continuing domestic violence or abusive parenting, any face-to-face contact at all may be highly inappropriate given the serious long-lasting effects of these forms of trauma in early childhood."

Last edit: by April

Yes it is April.
It also determined: Babies under two years who lived one or more overnights a week with both parents were significantly stressed. In their general day-to-day behaviour these babies were more irritable and worked much harder to monitor the presence and to stay close to their primary parent than babies who had less or no overnight time away from their primary caregiver.
However the guidelines have  taken the stance 'no overnights unless necessary', when in fact the research (if believed) found less then one night a week appears to be ok?. Going by what the researchers themselves had said on the lack of Australian studies or any recent studies, there does not appear to be any research that shows less then one night does any harm.

The guidelines recommend no over night under 2 (unless necessary) for non-court cases, so anyone reading them (parents, lawyers) may not consider an alternative options like less then one night per week. I know far to many cases where fortnightly over nights work well, even in some high conflict cases.

A friend of mine has a 12 month old baby, her OH used to have him for 2 hours 3 times a week, during the day. However, every hand over resulted in loud arguments between them. She then went to letting him have bub from 8 am Sat morning to 3pm Sunday afternoon, every fortnight. Dad is happier cause it's more 'time' (in his mind that means a win lol). Mum is happier cause she doesn't have to be exposed to dad 3 times a week & bub seems more settled because he doesn't get exposed 3 times a week to mum & dads verbal arguments. Had they followed the guidelines this harmony would not have been achieved for another 2 years!
They are called guidelines, not rules.

It is a shame that your friend and her ex partner had to make the infant be the one doing the adjusting.  Now, because they couldn't control themselves not to fight in front of the infant the infant only gets to see dad once a fortnight.
It is a shame that your friend and her ex partner had to make the infant be the one doing the adjusting.  Now, because they couldn't control themselves not to fight in front of the infant the infant only gets to see dad once a fortnight.
That is true but the reality is many parents can't control themselves, conflict and high emotions appear to be common after separation. Seems to be a common failing of human nature, sadly. The counseling waiting lists and mediation waiting lists here are 4-6 months. So for newly separated parents, any help is often late in coming. By the time it reaches mediation, the conflict is that much more intrenched and harder to resolve.

In this case though the Dad has fortnightly access (same weekend) access of his 7 old from a prior relationship, so at least now the bub is building a relationship with her, bub also now gets to see Dads parents. A sore point with this Dad was neither of his children new each other because schedules clashed. He had to also spend an hour driving after work to see bub 3 times a week. Not all parents live close enough for shorter more frequent visits to be that practical, even if do-able.

The Mum now plays volleyball on the night Bub is away, so she appreciates a longer break. If changing a contact arrangement (even for an infant/toddler) lessons parents stress and increases their ability to cope as parents (particularly for the primary carer) then one can assume it will benefit the child, even if it is changed to an over night arrangement. Fortunately these parents didn't blunder on with the old situation for any length of time, like some do.

They are called guidelines, not rules - yes and they are aimed at proving guidance from a reputable infant health organization to parents. Many will follow them blindly as they do not provide much/ if any information which would to help a parent critically analyze if they should apply them to their situation or not.
April said
Linear regression modelling is a method of statistical analysis used to determine the extent to which different variables contribute (or not) to the target variable.  It is used to determine whether other factors that are relevant to the analysis have contributed significantly to the outcome being observed or measured. In the study done by McIntosh and colleagues the variables of parenting style (warm vs hostile) co-parenting relationship (level of co-operation between parents) and demographics (sex, education level, employment and income) were also included and controlled for statistically to see whether any of them played a mediating or significantly contributing role. The results showed, that infants who were in shared care (i.e. one or more nights per week away from primary carer) demonstrated significantly more irritability (this does not mean just a few extra minutes of crying each day) and they were more vigilant about monitoring the whereabouts of their primary carer (instead of exploring their environment and playing which is what they should be doing). These results showed that the shared care arrangement made a unique and significant contribution to negative outcomes for the infant. Nothing at all surprising about that and that is what would be expected and is in line with other research on infant attachment.
All,

The guidelines are a failure because the research upon which they are based is flawed and the methodology is poor. Instead of disentangling the many factors involved as April says,
April said
These results showed that the shared care arrangement made a unique and significant contribution to negative outcomes for the infant.
But what is it about 'shared parenting' that has the 'negative outcomes'?

In research terms you cannot lump all the factors together using a statistical analysis and then say that it proves your theory.

Most significantly Dr McIntosh conflates two completely different factors. Parental discord and overnight stays.

This quote used by April supports the view that the researchers are using the problems associated with parental discord to discredit shared parenting and overnight stays. (PLEASE SEE; "Men Can't Nurse" say Australian Guidelines on contact for fathers from Dr Jennifer McIntosh PART TWO which specifically deals with this point - http://youtu.be/InjMwNqg9oI)

April said
This is a quote from the study (p.157)

"Given the nature of the general population data used in this study, these group findings will not be relevant to outlying cases and circumstances. We return to the phrase all else being well. For example, more frequent overnight care may arguably be in an infants best interests when it is essential for the primary parents physical or mental health. By contrast, where children have experienced or are likely to be exposed to continuing domestic violence or abusive parenting, any face-to-face contact at all may be highly inappropriate given the serious long-lasting effects of these forms of trauma in early childhood."
You cannot factor out of the equation 'parental discord' because as the earlier seminal work by Rutter showed this is the overriding factor in children's maladjustment. Rutter showed that 'high conflict' is bad for children not shared parenting.

kip

VIDEO - PARENTAL SEPARATION: Psychological effects on children - Professor Sir Michael Rutter

http://youtu.be/ncqQByhxJuI

Last edit: by Kip


Kingsley Miller is the author of 'even Toddlers Need Fathers', a critique of the principle of 'Maternal Deprivation' as applied in family courts, which Professor Sir Michael Rutter described as an, 'interesting and informative guide'. He has also received a letter from Buckingham Palace stating, 'It was thoughtful of you to enclose a copy of your book 'even Toddlers Need Fathers' and Her Majesty has noted your concerns'.
No Kip you are wrong in your understanding of the variables used for the study.  In fact the relationship between the parents (how warm or hostile they were towards each other) was statistically controlled for.  Shared parenting of infants made a unique contribution to the negative outcomes in the McIntosh et al study.

Have you read the whole report or are you relying on other's interpretation of it?

If you think the analysis was poorly done then why don't you explain why you think that because you wrote..

In research terms you cannot lump all the factors together using a statistical analysis and then say that it proves your theory.

but that doesn't explain anything.  Researchers in human behaviour never say a theory is proved.  You also wrote…

But what is it about 'shared parenting' that has the 'negative outcomes'?

That is the million dollar question.  In fact the question should have "for infants" on the end because the study only found negative outcomes for infants in shared care. Why is that? Attachment theory could provide a possible answer but Kip you don't believe in all that Bowlby nonsense so why do you think these results were found?  I would love to read your opinion without you quoting from others.
All,

I have posted my reply to April in a new thread;

 **PARENT-CHILD SEPARATION: PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS on THE CHILDREN MICHAEL RUTTER**

I apologise for any inconvenience,

kip

Kingsley Miller is the author of 'even Toddlers Need Fathers', a critique of the principle of 'Maternal Deprivation' as applied in family courts, which Professor Sir Michael Rutter described as an, 'interesting and informative guide'. He has also received a letter from Buckingham Palace stating, 'It was thoughtful of you to enclose a copy of your book 'even Toddlers Need Fathers' and Her Majesty has noted your concerns'.
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