Understanding Attachment and Attachment Disorders: Theory, Evidence, and Practice

By Vivien Prior; Danya Glaser | Go to book overview

6 Is Attachment Theory
Valid across Cultures?

Culture is an issue of central importance in attachment theory. As previously described, attachment theory is an evolutionary theory, the attachment behavioural system having evolved in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness with the biological function of the protection and survival of the child. It must therefore apply to all humans as a species, irrespective of culture. To suggest that central features of attachment theory do not apply across cultures challenges the universality of the theory and therefore the theory itself.

It is now established that in Western societies the majority of infants are securely attached. This is sometimes referred to as the 'normativity hypothesis', for example van IJzendoorn and Sagi (1999). However, does the preponderance of secure attachment hold in non-Western societies, in particular those societies where early child-care is not based on the nuclear family but instead is shared among wider kinship or social groups? Do attachment studies in non-Western societies support the normativity hypothesis?


Ainsworth's Uganda study

It is often overlooked that one of the first studies to explore attachment in a non-Western, multiple-caregiver society was carried out by Ainsworth in Uganda. Her work there laid the foundation for her later study in Baltimore and her subsequent vast contribution to attachment theory. Whilst her study of Ganda infants was small and exploratory, it was crucially important in the development of the strange situation procedure, and in establishing that in a society in which child-care is more widely shared, infants form attachments to their mothers and use the mother as a secure base.

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