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Research Paper on Child Development and Attachment Theory

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Understanding how the minds of children develop is a fascinating subject. Child development is a promising field for psychologists and leads to great insight into the ways in which human minds operate a young age. This sample psychology research paper explores attachment theory, a popular method for understanding how and why humanoid children develop and form relationships.

Understanding the nature of child attachment theory

One of a human being’s basic necessities is love and companionship, and this need begins in infancy. In order to explore the importance of early bonding, Harry Harlow created surrogate mothers for rhesus babies. Shortly after their birth, the rhesus babies were taken from their mothers and placed in individual cages. Initially, the cages were lined with soft gauze diapers, and Harlow realized that the rhesus babies grew attached to the diapers. In order to explore this finding, Harlow realized that if the babies were placed in cages without the diapers, they would die.

Subsequently, Harlow maintained that mothers seemingly provided “a haven of safety and a source of security” (Vicedo, 2009, p. 199).

Later on, Harlow found that rhesus babies who were raised by wire mothers were unable to form relationships as adults; however, Harlow also noted that the baby monkeys who were raised by cloth mothers which mimicked comfort, such as rocking, were more likely to develop normally (Vicedo, 2009).

Literature review used in the research

The theory of attachment continues to be a popular subject for researchers because of some suspect that individuals who lack attention and affection from their caregivers are at risk for future antisocial and sociopathic behavior and, in turn, pose a detriment to society. However, in regards to caregivers, researchers have found that a mother’s relationship with her children in their early years is the foundation for emotionally healthy and stable children.

Laible's investigation into parent-child attachment

Laible (2011) determined a mother and child bond was the basis of the child’s emotional understanding because it provided attachment security. While bonding happens shortly after a child’s birth, various forms of attachment develop in older infants. Essentially, attachment involves a “reciprocal relationship” between the parent and child (Shaffer & Kipp, 2014, p. 386). Parental obligations include communicating with their children; however, communication may include negative and positive discussions.

As an illustration, a negative or traumatic childhood event, such as the death of a family pet, may harbor emotional distress in the child. Thus, parents’ abilities to effectively discuss negative events may influence their children’s reactions to future events when they mature. Because children use their parents as guides, Laible (2011) hypothesized that mothers who were able to have healthy conversations, based on the past positive and negative events, with their preschool aged children would be influential in the children’s emotional development.

Measuring interaction between mother and child

In a laboratory setting, mothers and children were invited to free-play for 15 minutes, and after their play session, Laible (2011) instructed the mothers to recall the past positive and negative event with their preschooler. Laible (2011) recorded the mother and child’s warmth and hostility towards each other and their overall ability to communicate.

Laible (2011) found that mothers tended to have longer conversations about positive events; however, “the discourse between mothers and children in the negative event conversations was richer than in the positive event conversations” (p. 402).

Laible’s findings suggest parents should encourage their children to communicate distress regarding negative occasions because it may encourage children to develop empathy. In addition, it seems children replicated their mothers’ reactions. However, while Laible (2011) demonstrated a correlation between mother’s and children’s emotional attitudes, there is little evidence for her hypothesis because her findings are not dependent upon the long run.

Ultimately, Laible’s study would have to be long term in order to include the child’s development up until young adulthood. In addition, there are limitations to Laible’s study. For example, the majority of the children came from intact, and predominantly Caucasian, families. Subsequently, because the mothers came from relatively stable environments, they likely had strong foundations for their own emotional health. With that in mind, Madigan, Moran, Schuengel, Pederson, and Otten’s (2007) longitudinal study investigated unresolved and disorganized attachment in toddlers who had young and single mothers.

Madigan's team unresolved and disorganized attachment investigation

Madigan et al. (2007) proposed mothers’ backgrounds had significant bearings on their children’s attachment levels. Their sample was based on mothers who were 20 years old and younger who fell below the Canadian standard of poverty. Because of the mothers’ backgrounds, Madigan et al. (2007) hypothesized that their toddlers would engage in disruptive behaviors. Incidentally, young single mothers seem to be generalized as inadequate role models, so Madigan et al. (2007) sought to understand the association between mothers’ parenting abilities or styles and their children’s negative behaviors and delinquency.

While the researchers found that the mother’s age and income did not necessarily predict disruptive behavior, they also concluded that “disorganized attachment serves as a mediator in the association between disrupted behavior…and later toddler behavior problems” (Madigan et al., 2007, p. 1048).

Ultimately, disorganized attachment implies insecurity (Shaffer & Kipp, 2014). Thus, toddlers’ insecurity around their parents may influence their inability to respond to certain situations because they never learned how to behave accordingly. Similarly to Madigan et al., Von der Lippe, Eilertsen, Hartmann, and Killen (2010) proposed early attachment affected children’s behaviors. In addition, Von der Lippe et al. (2010) hypothesized teaching attitudes would be consistent with a mother’s sensitivity.

Sense of security and nurture

Because most theorists maintain children need to have a sense of security in their relationships with their parents, teaching children may incorporate other factors that typical caregiving does not include. For example, some parents may experience frustration as they teach their children their ABCs. Thus, parents who demonstrate negative reactions while teaching may affect their children’s learning. In the longitudinal study, the Von der Lippe et al.’s (2010) sample included 106 middle-class Caucasian mothers and their children.

The authors concluded, “maternal attachment was significantly linked to…emotional responsiveness” (p. 439). Von der Lippe et al.’s (2010) study lasted approximately seven years, so their results were conducive to their hypothesis.

At the same time, their results are limited because they specifically studied relatively stable family environments. For the most part, studies have demonstrated that children of adolescent mothers demonstrate greater emotional immaturity so they may influence their children to display negative behaviors.

Child psychology and explaining delinquent behavior

On the other hand, some institutionalized children have been found to have suffered neglect and abuse from their biological parents, so researchers Barone and Linoetti (2011) investigated the bond between adopted children and their adoptive parents. Normally, infants are able to bond with their biological parents through parental nurturing and natural stimuli; however, when older children are adopted, they often lack that emotional attachment. Barone and Linoetti (2011) specifically studied adopted older children, aged three through five years of age, and hypothesized that the children may have developed insecurities and emotional impairment, but their adoptive parents could possibly provide foundations for the children’s level of attachment.

Comparing the results from the Adult Attachment Interview and the Manchester Child Attachment Story Task, Barone and Linoetti (2011) noted adoptive mothers tended to have a significant effect on the adoptive child’s attachment patterns. Furthermore, Barone and Linoetti (2011) had found that their results indicated adoptions are actually opportunities for previously abused or neglected children. In other words, once children are placed in a nurturing environment, they tend to develop normally. Thus the environment and the parenting seem to have equal influence on children’s development.

Limited attachment and childhood development

Accurate or not, it is a common belief that children who have limited attachment to their parents end up delinquents. Likewise, Kim and Page (2013) have explained that childhood truancy often leads to future criminal behavior. The American Psychological Association suggested truancy indicated a “conduct disordered behavior” (Kim & Page, 2013, p.869), so in their research, Kim and Page (2013) proposed truancy is a marker for future behavioral problems and investigated the correlation between insecure attachment and negative behavior.

In a cross-sectional design, Kim and Page (2013) hypothesized elementary school children with high-quality child-parent bonds would be less likely to engage in negative behavior. In their data collection, Kim and Page (2013) used The Security Scales (SS), Emotion Regulation Checklist (ERC), questionnaires for the children and the Child Behavior Checklist-Teacher’s Report Form (CBL-TRF) surveys from teachers. Kim and Page compared their results with Truancy Assessment and Service (TASC) program’s Risk Indicator Survey (RIS I).

Limited childhood attachment study

Researchers understood socioeconomic conditions play a large role in crimes and tested these claims during the study. The TASC program was mainly comprised of lower income and minority families, and predominately African American, so Kim and Page’s (2013) sample reflected this particular demographic.

Kim and Page (2013) found that the “measures of emotion dysregulation, behavior problems, and the RIS were significantly correlated… [but the] “ERC was only associated with aggressive behavior” (p. 873).

However, Kim and Page (2013) proposed that their study had limitations due to the self-reported surveys because there is a lack of evidence that suggests middle childhood-aged children are able to accurately report their behavior or emotions. Unsurprisingly, Kim and Page (2013) concluded that children’s emotional security depends on their parents’ ability to regulate their own emotions. In addition, the majority of the parents who responded were mothers.

Research study participants and methods

Each study proposed children’s attachment levels were heavily influenced by their parents or caregivers. However, the majority of the researchers tended to use Caucasian mothers. Thus, the other commonality was the parent’s gender. For the most part, researchers focused their studies on mothers. While the children who grew up with young mothers tended to exhibit some attachment issues, it was not a substantial factor in their development.

Instead, it seems environment and parental attitudes were the most significant factor in children’s behavior. Therefore, based on the reviewed literature, it is difficult to attribute delinquent behavior to children’s initial attachments. In order to find empirical evidence that connects future behavior to attachment, researchers would have to observe children from the time they were born until they reached early adulthood.

Childhood development and attachment conclusions and summary

While attachment continues to be a popular subject for developmental researchers, there is a lack of research that focuses on fathers. In contemporary America, mothers and fathers often work full time, so they may spend equal time at home, and thus, equally influence their children’s attachment. It seems that researchers mistakenly expect the predominant caregiver to be the mother, so while Harry Harlow’s initial investigation found that nature and nurturing were important in babies’ development, his research also revealed a need for emotional security. In other words, further research should investigate and compare the differences, if any, in a father and mother’s caregiving styles.

Overall, while the information gained from the studies implies environment is an important element to a child’s development, it seems that there was a lack of evidence that supported attachment and future behavioral problems. With that in mind, this lack of evidence poses a future question that researchers should address. Perhaps children exhibit behavior based on other’s preconceived notions. Because if a teacher believes a teenage mother is incapable of caring for her children, the teacher may inadvertently respond negatively to the mother, and subsequently, he or she will react negatively to the children. Ultimately, in order to understand attachment, researchers must consider all parties involved because a child’s behavior may be a direct consequence of his or her environment.


Barone, L., & Lionetti, F. (2011). Attachment and emotional understanding: A study on late-adopted pre-schoolers and their parents. Child: Care, Health and Development, 690-696. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2214.2011.01296.x

Kim, H., & Page, T. (2013). Emotional bonds with parents, emotion regulation, and school-related behavior problems among elementary school truants. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 22(6), 869-878. doi: 10.1007/s10826-012-9646-5

Laible, D. (2010). Does it matter if preschool children and mothers discuss positive vs. negative events during reminiscing? Links with mother-reported attachment, family emotional climate, and socioemotional development. Social Development, 394-411. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2010.00584.x

Madigan, S., Moran, G., Schuengel, C., Pederson, D. R., & Otten, R. (2007). Unresolved maternal attachment representations, disrupted maternal behavior and disorganized attachment in infancy: Links to toddler behavior problems. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48(10), 1042-1050. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01805.x

Shaffer, D. R., & Kipp, K. (2014). Emotional development, temperament, and attachment. In Developmental psychology: Childhood and adolescence (9th ed., pp. 371-411). Australia: Wadsworth.

Vicedo, M. (2009). Mothers, machines, and morals: Harry Harlow’s work on primate love from lab to legend. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 45(3), 193-218. doi: 10.1002/jhbs.20378

Von der Lippe, A., Eilertsen, D. E., Hartmann, E., & Killen, K. (2010). The role of maternal attachment in children's attachment and cognitive executive functioning: A preliminary study. Attachment & Human Development, 12(5), 429-444. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2010.501967



Ultius, Inc. "Research Paper on Child Development and Attachment Theory." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 26 Jul. 2014. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/research-paper-on-child-development-and-attachment-theory.html

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Ultius, Inc. (2014, July 26). Research Paper on Child Development and Attachment Theory. Retrieved from Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services, https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/research-paper-on-child-development-and-attachment-theory.html

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Ultius, Inc. "Research Paper on Child Development and Attachment Theory." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. July 26, 2014 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/research-paper-on-child-development-and-attachment-theory.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "Research Paper on Child Development and Attachment Theory." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. July 26, 2014 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/research-paper-on-child-development-and-attachment-theory.html.

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